I will be teaching again Digital Strategy Course on July 20th here in NYC. As always, the course will be super-practical, with participants coming out of it with a bunch of hopefully useful digital thinking and doing tools. Besides that, we'll cover coming up with KPIs and setting benchmarks of success. We'll also explore tools for collaboration between digital strategists and other disciplines in the organization.
I am pretty excited as I planning to introduce my approach called Digital Thinking at this course.
Slide 6: Temple Grandin says that she is a primarily visual thinker, and claims that words are her second language. She attributes her success as a livestock facility designer to her ability to recall detail, which is characteristic of her visual memory. Grandin compares her memory to full-length movies in her head that can be replayed at will, allowing her to notice small details. She is also able to view her memories using slightly different contexts by changing the positions of the lighting and shadows. Her insights into the minds of cattle has thought her to value the changes in details to which animals are particularly sensitive, and to use her visualization skills to design thoughtful and humane animal-handling equipment. While I know nothing about the cows, I am able to holistically approach the client challenge, and visualize the possible solutions.
Slide 7: Visual approach works great in digital, because it makes us think about solutions to clients’ problems in terms of systems and networks. It requires coming up with a more integrated approach that focuses on connections and relationships between brand and customers, communities, digital and physical, etc. We are challenged to simultaneously think of a creative idea and its execution, and to develop & evolve creative and strategy in parallel. This of course changes the nature of our agency process to become more non-linear, integrated, and interactive, and redefines how departments work together.
Slide 8: The way we often talk about digital world, we talk about it in terms of abstract disruption. The problem with talking about digital in connection to disruption is that is too massive, ephemeral, and hard to relate to. We end up talking about digital changes as if they have nothing - or little - to do with us and our work. They are viewed as something to talk & wonder about - but not something that we right now need to execute by.
Slide 9: To me, these conversations about “digital future” are incredibly boring and repetitive.
Slide 10: Digital world emerged some 15 years ago, at least. That was when the disruption happened. Now we are living in the world where digital and non-digital are indistinguishable. The same way no one says “electric iron” or “electric fridge”, today digital retail is interchangeable with retail, digital sport with sport, digital tourism with tourism, digital cooking with cooking, etc. Our world is digital world.
Slide 11: I like talking and thinking about are specific macro-trends that are disrupting businesses and culture in very specific, tangible, and measurable ways. Only by focusing on particular inflection points and breaks in business and marketing, we can really use the insights about what/how digital world really changed the way the industries (cultural industry included) operates. If we understand dynamic of these macro-trends, we will be able to use it in our brand and marketing strategy, thus effectively keeping our brands competitive.
Slide 12: Sharing economy revolves around having access to used and/or pre-owned goods. It’s based on a mutual trust between participants in a transaction, rather than the abstract market mechanism (price). It is a flexible system, as it nimbly provides supply based on the volume of demand through renting, trading, sharing, swapping, and bartering. Economic dynamic based on access removes the burden of ownership (costs of maintenance, storage, service, etc). At the same time, the access reshapes the markets in which brands compete in: they are competing not only with other marketers producing new goods and services but also with the all existing goods and services. For example, think AirBnb: it extends the hospitality/tourism markets to include all available rooms in the area (and not only hotel rooms). AirBnB effectively disrupts tourism industry by offering a cheaper, more convenient, more accessible and more fun version of hospitality service offerings.
Slide 13: We leave digital traces everywhere, from the moment we open the browser. Our likes, affinities, preferences, purchase habits and communication patterns are out there for all to see (and use). Aggregates of our individual behavioral patterns tell stories about wider social & cultural trends (think sharing, cooking, driving, running, shopping, etc). Brands, in particular, are rich repositories of all this data (just think big ecommerce platforms like Target, IKEA, JCrew, BestBuy or social shopping destinations like Svpply, Fab, Pinterest, etc). They can use all this wealth of data to tell a story about their customers, a wonderful, human, relevant story that can also be used as a bonus marketing message. This “consumer-based” story is a social object that’s easy to share, identify with, relate to and compare ourselves with (and that’s more interesting than any invented ad message).
Slide 14: Social information today is overlapping with price and it provides a powerful social context for consumer decision-making. We can now “calculate” the worth of a product or service based on whether it’s green, popular, worn by a celebrity, based on fair trade practices - i.e. based on everything that’s important to us. This sort of information has always been attached to products, but the thing is that we weren’t able to see it. Digital now makes all this information visible - and allows us consider all sorts of information aside of price - and It helps us make better, more informed, more social purchasing decisions.
Slide 15: When thinking about social influence, the best is to think of a forest fire metaphor. Whether or not the fire spreads doesn’t depend so much on the kind of the fire, but more on the density of trees in the forest, of how dry the forrest is, whether it rains or not, how close the trees are to each other, etc. The same is with social influence online: rather than investing money in a few celebrities, we are much better off if we spend that same money on the large number of “accidental influentials” (Duncan Watts’ term). Back to the forest metaphor: lighting a fire on a lot of trees makes it much more easier for the whole forest to burn, than lighting just one big tree. As Buzzfeed, The Awl, The Onion, Cheezburger Network, etc. have shown, people do like to share. The best strategy is then to aggregate a lot of people who like to share vs. a few celebrities who don’t particularly like to share, but would do it for money. Duncan calls this situation targeting “easily influenced people who influence other easily influenced people.” Those kind of individuals (professional sharers :) make content & memes spread much faster and wider than any pre-planned “viral” campaign.
Slide 16: This one is my favorite, because it requires doing a bit of a detective work. I stole the idea of looking for contradictions, inversions, coincidences and oddities from an innovation theorist (forgot the name). Contradictions mean simultaneous happening of two things at odds with each other, indicating a transformation of a certain trend. Oddities refer to out-of-ordinary occurrences that make us search beneath the surface or a trend or pattern. Inversions refer to unseen-before reversal in a trend’s dynamics. Coincidences are about concurrent appearance of distant and unrelated trends or patterns. Here are a few examples:
Contradictions: Millenials are 40% of the car market, but they are buying cars & driving less than any previous generation. Digital gadgets replaced cars as genY identity markers.
Oddities: Rapid growth of Instagram shows that this app is not only about taking photos and applying nostalgic filters. It’s about scratching some kind of storytelling itch among genY.
Inversions: There’s more than 40% of households in major American cities with just one occupant. This makes us accept urban tribes as a prevalent social unit.
Coincidences: Economic crisis happens simultaneously with an incredibly lively economic activity happening in peer-to-peer markets. Safe to say that the established economic logic is under a quiet but inevitable transformation.
Slide 17: The five macro-trends that I selected have the biggest impact on marketing: they bend its practices and create major inflection points in its processes and tools. These five trends are, more importantly, the inevitable starting point in digital marketing thinking: be it a campaign, a marketing strategy, a launch of a new product, a digital brand positioning or coming up with a brand purpose. Every single digital marketing venture should start from these macro-trends, because they define our approach to business challenges, consumer problems, competitive opportunity and/or brand positioning. Most importantly, using these trends as a starting point defines what digital marketing is: it’s not about the tools and tactics for execution - it is about detecting, understanding and tracking what’s going on because of digital and about building a brand around it. It’s this starting point that makes digital marketing unique and incredibly different from “traditional” marketing, which was obsessed, in a solipsistic manner, with using the brand, the category, and the product as its starting points. Digital marketing is not about media planning, engagement planning, communication strategy, and/or social media: it’s about the approach sensitive to macro-trends made possible by digital technology, and about devising a strategy that utilizes brands to amplify, recognize, or own these trends.
Slide 19: Digital marketing focuses on things that are enabled by, facilitated, spread, grow, etc. because of digital technologies and behaviors. Ask which economic and cultural trends & currents are made possible by/permitted/emerged/amplified due to digital technologies, and then start building brand strategy around it.
Slide 20: The job of digital marketing, among other things, is to figure out new monetization opportunities for brands in the context of dynamic, consumer-driven, collaborative consumption markets. Making a cheaper version of a product/service is an option as it opens up the market to a whole new set of people (this is described in detail by Clayton Christensen in his “Innovator’s Dilemma”). Another version of the same approach, according to Aaron Shapiro, CEO of HUGE, is to make a product/service more convenient, or easier to use, or more fun. New monetization opportunities for brands should be based on all of the above, and focused on adding value to a selected consumer behavior/habit and/or responding to some need. Sharing economy in particular opens up new monetization opportunities for brands, because it forces them to explore: a) how to extend the product lifecycle, b) what unused distribution opportunities exist our there, and c) how to solve some customer’s problem. In the example above VW found a way to create brand affinity and promote its vehicles by wrapping a collaborative consumption-based system around them. It’s a test drive for everyone - when they need it and when it really makes a difference in their lives.
Slide 21: Google insights for search, social listening tools, and digital ethnography tools give us insights into consumers’ habits, motivations, and expectations. They also reveal anomalies, oddities and atypical patterns that are signals that something interesting’s going on - that we should tap into.
Slide 22: There are a few points to be made here: a) the most successful advertising today is native to its medium, meaning that it organically fits with the site content, layout, and with audience expectations for the site in question. In this way, we are using the site to create a powerful social context for advertising consumption; b) media today are not only what’s directed at people, but what exists between people (as Ian Schafer pointed out). Brand content needs to be sensitive to this dynamics: we should always ask whether our creative is/can become a social object; c) consumers rely on each other and brands for finding and discovering the best content. Most of cultural products are chosen by a small group of people who have a better taste than anyone else. Brands have an enormous potential to become part of this taste-making dynamic, by directing consumer attention towards specific content/products/etc. Ask: how can my brand help evolve consumers’ tastes by exposing them to the best content/information/lifestyle?
Slide 23: There is a ton of interesting things happening outside the marketing and branding world. Those things are often way more interesting than anything a brand does. At the same time, brands can help these small, brewing currents at the edge of the culture or business achieve a mass scale and global prominence. By detecting an emerging trend at the periphery of some industry (think retail industry, in the example above), brands get to capture & own the trend and to amplify it to the level of a wider cultural conversation. Case in point: GAP combined a few brewing trends - fashion blogging, product remixing & scrapbooking, and personal fashion styling - under the umbrella of its GAP styld.by campaign, which asked fashion bloggers to remix GAP products with items from their own closet in order to express their personal style. This campaign is a win for a few reasons: Tumblr provides a natural environment for a fashion blog; GAP products live in a social context; it lends the brand legitimacy and reputation of stylists used in the campaign; it’s an easily shareable social object.
Slide 24: Transparency can help brands to create a powerful social context that shapes consumers’ brand and product perceptions. Disclosing information about company culture, green practices, and operations turns them into marketing (think Zappos blogs, Patagonia product tracker, or Icebreaker barcode). It also turns their marketing upside down: it diverts consumers’ attention from a beautiful print ad or an emotional TV spot toward ubiquitous, easily accessible information about how brands products/services fare against competing products; how do they perform within a specific social or taste graph, or how they compare on fair-trade scale.
Slide 25: To put these macro-trends in context of marketing vs digital marketing, we need to understand where the “big switch” is happening.
Slide 26: Advertising is not enough. It’s also not effective enough in changing people’s behaviors. We need to move from making funny copy and commercial ad pieces towards approaching brands as taste-makers, editors, curators, publishers, and providers of value. To achieve this, we need to start from the context of consumers lives, and see how a brand can seamlessly insert itself into their habits, expectations, and behaviors. We need to ask: can we make a product/service cheaper? can we make it more fun? can we make it more convenient? can we become more useful and more entertaining? what problem are we solving for our customer?
Slide 27: Commercial art pieces can be beautiful to look at, they can be talked about, and they can win awards. What we need, as an industry, is to start thinking about creating social objects that will turn our creative solutions into memes, conversation pieces, etc. that will sky-rocket them into the domain of cultural conversation. ROI on social objects is measured in greater brand affinity, a wider exposure, more impressions, and ultimately more conversions. Social objects is how our customers communicate and relate to each other. They are things that take part or create a relationship between people - an invitation, a social gesture, a gift, a reward. People exchange social objects as a way of relating to each other - and we want our creative to become an inherent and seamless part of social relationships.
Slide 28: Demographic targeting is a great starting point in every strategy. Today, however, it’s not nearly a sufficient one. Social media brought into picture interest graphs, taste graphs, and most recently, spend graphs. All of these tell us a deeper story about consumers preferences, tastes, and decision-making processes than any demographic targeting ever would be able to. They reveal connections between diverse demographic groups that we wouldn’t otherwise realize, and they reveal patterns of social influence and taste-making that we need to take into account in developing our strategy and engagement plans. More often than not, the fastest and most effective way to reach our target is through their networks of influence: people who influence their tastes, interests, and shopping choices. Instead of being satisfied with the neat demographic groups, we need to ask the following: what interest/taste personas are we targeting? where can we find them? what do they do there? what are they influenced by? what social/taste/interest networks do they belong to? what do they talk about? what language they use when talking about our product/brand or category? how do they interact with brands and with each other?
Slide 29: Too often, our marketing efforts start from a product/service that a brand offers. The best brands - digital or otherwise - think in terms of relationships. They define their brand purpose by capturing a specific behavior and/or relationship they want to own. Google’s purpose is organizing world’s information (and not search); Pepsi’s purpose is empowering communities (and not selling sugared water); Nike’s purpose revolves around running and making it better; Instagram’s purpose is to allow anyone to feel an emotional connection to photography (strangely enough, Kodak has this same purpose but it got list amid company’s rigid internal culture); Burberry’s purpose is to connect high and low culture that’s the essence of Britishness (Burberry has been worn by everyone from Queen to Sid Vicious). To succeed, brands need to ask themselves which behavior and relationship they want to build their purpose around.
Slide 30: In our industry, we are too often encouraged to think simple: to come up with a single insight, a single killer creative idea, a single course of our strategic action. Instead, we should start from the complexity of trends and patterns of consumers’ behaviors, and explore ways to amplify it them. The best way to win in today’s complex consumer markets is to recognize an emerging consumer need, a brewing trend, or an untapped distribution opportunity for our brands. Then, we should amplify it and own it. If consumers today are all about sharing, as in the car-sharing example above, we need to figure out the way how we can amplify this emerging trend and make it work for our car brand.
Slide 31: At the end, there are a few basic questions to help us kick-start our digital marketing effort. They can help us focus our thinking, inform our approach, and offer guidance for creating a winning marketing campaign - or at least one that is suitable for the digital world.
I am co-teaching the first-ever, all-day digital strategy course on November 18 in New York City. Along with the two amazing ladies (and the super-accomplished professionals), I am going to cover everything that ranges from how to write a digital brief, what are success stories and why there were successful, how collaboration between digital strategists and creatives should look like, to how to sell digital strategy to clients. More information about the full day agenda is here: http://digitalstrategycourse.eventbrite.com/
You should come, it's going to be fun! And bring friends :)
The image above is from Trashr, which connects supply and demand of discarded goods. Everyone who's lived in NYC for a while knows what gems can be found discarded on the street. Why not create a market around it? One man's trash is another man's treasure, after all.
There are a lot of social media strategists around. I know and like quite a few of them. The trouble is, this role can be viewed as a canvas for the ad industry's struggle to capture and define its own evolution.
The main problem with all roles revolving around social media is the limited (and limiting) career path. Just imagine: one can be a community manager; then a senior community manager, than a director of community management, and then ... what? Narrow specialization prevents this person from both assuming a higher managerial role (as he/she doesn't have the necessary breadth of expertise in leading multi-disciplinary teams) and from playing a more important client-facing role (since he/she can't help client with a broader brand and business strategy).
It's inherent in the role that people assuming it will inevitably, sooner or later, move onto something else. But how? Being pidgeon-holed by their tactical tool belt, social media strategists despite their title, rarely get to actually do very little strategy. In the unfortunate agency process, they come in once insights have already been formed and ideas have already took shape. But it's not only the process to blame: the social media people, themselves, are hardly able to bring to table brand and consumer insights in a way that planners do.
So what's to do? It would be wrong to say that any specialization is undesirable. It's only tactical, and not strategic specialization that sucks (think Flash designers).
Advertising strategists have the most diverse backgrounds, interests, skills and knowledge and these - if formulated as a specific strength within a wider context of understanding digital behaviors - can prove to be invaluable areas of specialization. But specializations we talk about are those like digital branding, e-commerce, gaming, digital communication, or behavioral economics. These are vast, dynamic areas, and they don't suffer from the danger of becoming obsolete when some new tool or tactic or behavior shows up.
And right there - in posing the problem as a challenge of understanding digital behaviors - is the possible way out. Viewed in this context, social media become the question of interactions, interpersonal and group dynamics, influence and movements. The catch is to redefine the specialization not in terms of social media, but in terms of social behaviors.
Because, social media strategy that starts from behaviors is never going to become obsolete. We only have to ask how social media makes our consumers' behaviors more informed, more fun, or better. Will placing customer service on Twitter achieve our brand's goal? Will activating community achieve it? Or, should we use social media for advertising? The answers - and the tactics selected - all depend on what behavior we want to modify.
The way for social media strategists of today to survive is to start thinking less about the toolset they have on their disposal, and more about the social dynamics they are trying to create or influence. My bet is that it will become easier for them to operate on the strategic level, to envision the path to brand and business objectives, and to advance their career path further.
The mantra of our increasingly complex world has, oddly enough, become "think simple." As interconnections multiply and problems become messier, we are encouraged to reduce them to a single answer, a single solution, or a single killer insight to address an unpredictable web of moving parts. This panel is going to convince you that simplicity is a false god, especially when it comes to creating things in digital. Making digital stuff starts with interactions between data, people, and things. It mixes technology and storytelling. It produces a mesh of small, iterative experiments that work together to create new behaviors. We promise to explore why and how a new model of creativity must champion agility, adaptability, experimentation, noise, and most of all, relationship building.
1. What's the difference between a simple and a complex problem?
2. Why does that difference matter when making digital things?
3. What does a creative process look like that respects complexity?
4. How do you build, launch, manage, and learn from many small experiments rather than one big product/campaign/message?
5. How should complex relationships shape creative strategy and execution?
Tags: Complexity, Creativity, Design
Link for voting: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/10045?return=%2Fideas%2Findex%2F10%2Fpresenter%3AAna+Andjelic
This is the presentation I was carrying around on iPad to my job interviews in June, instead of my resume. I realized that, more than a list of places, clients, and projects that I have done in the past, nothing inspires a conversation like talking about the way I think about things, what I find interesting/important, and what I am passionate about.
Having a social object at the meeting makes the assessment of the work fit easier because two parties are involved in an equal-footing exchange (instead of one-sided conversation style that's a staple of interviews). It also allows a person to tell a story in a personal way that puts work & extracurricular accomplishments in the real-life, relevant context of someone's life (always more interesting than just listing stuff that someone has done). It shows, too, a person's presentation skills and ability to build an argument (which is potentially super-useful for client presentations & meetings). Finally, it's a tangible display of someone's simple know-how of how to put a beautiful-looking deck together.
And it worked out for me, in the best possible way.
p.s. For the obvious reasons, I took out the four case studies that are part of the original deck; they served as examples of my past work & my thinking approach to specific client tasks + deliverables. But everything else is there!
p.p.s. The part of "data mining" is taken from Julian Cole and the part of it is mine.
Bud and I would love to talk about complexity at the next SxSW, so we started thinking, plotting, and writing, and this is what we came up with... It's basically a summary of everything that he and I have been obsessed about in the past months, and is an attempt to get more people to start thinking about complexity. Hope the panel happens!
In a nutshell:
Have you ever been to a kid’s birthday party? It’s chaotic, unpredictable, fast-moving, and fun. It’s either the best thing or the worst thing, but you can’t know in advance which of the two is going to be.
Today’s digital world is a little bit like kids’ parties. It just involves a lot more people. And anything that has to do with a lot of people doing a lot of things is complex. To create something in the complex space forces us to think differently about the approach to, processes, and products of creativity.
This new creativity starts with interconnections between data, people, and things. It deals with the web of a bunch of small moving pieces that create intricate feedback mechanisms and new behaviors. It mixes code with the story and it’s open and iterative. It’s methodology relies on complexity’s own tools for solving problems. It's not about coming up with the new creative formats, but in making new connections. It’s a medium, not the product.
Complexity can be scary when connected with creativity. But it’s also unbelievably inspiring. It offers the maximum creative flexibility and the maximum executional options. It makes us realize that simplicity is a false god and that the new rule of creativity is looking for intuitive solutions that don’t reduce complexity but that thrive in it.
This panel is going to answer the following questions:
You can see the revised & submitted proposal here.
I am pretty late with this, but figured I should put it here anyway. It's the story behind my Creativity & Complexity deck. It starts with me saying that advertising creativity has always been a branding vehicle, and if we are talking about branding (my fav subject) we can't avoid thinking about creativity. And now, as everythone's trying to figure out what's going to work online and why and how and all of that, it's useful to backpedal for a sec and remember that evolution of creativity is the evolution of media. So here we are now, in 2011, stuck with digital media. What helps?
When talking about creativity, everyone thinks about creative talent, creative agencies, or creative deliverables. But my starting point was not the words of wisdom from Weiden or Goodby or any other famous ad creative. Oddly enough, here's the quote that (I think) captures the best the snafu situation that we have today with creativity: "... because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know." (the live version of this statement is here, for those who are into it).
What makes the unlikeliest of all quotes so relevant here is that the infamous "unknown unknowns" are in fact the core property of complex adaptive systems. (Worth noting: CAS is the term that showed up in biology and that has since been widely used in organizational and technology studies). CAS are the systems that are built around, and thrive, on unknown unknowns. That's what makes them different from merely complicated systems: in the latter, there are a lot variables and the catch is that there's just too many of them. But luckily, they are all known. Think airline cockpit for example. Here, it's a shitshow, but if we simply follow a sequence, we are going to be just fine. The sequences don't change and they can be broken down into a series of simple problems - so the learning curve is probably, possible, and likely. Experience and expertise count big time here: the more times someone has done some complicated thing (like preparing for a pitch or making a media plan or managing client relationship), the better they are going to become in it.
But complex systems are no such walk in the park. They are like organizing a kid's birthday party: full of crazy towns, unexpected developments, left-field surprises (someone cries in the corner, someone doesn't want to play, someone got too sugar-high and is off the rails). This situation can't simply be broken down into its essential components and analyzed. And even if we could do that, complex situations are un-repeatable so the insight won't help us much. If anything, experience almost becomes a liability. Expertise here can be valuable, but far from being sufficient: the next bday party, for example, may ask for a completely different approach than the one right now. Current successes are no guarantee - and much less a predictor - of future sucesses. Thus, what makes complex systems hard to deal with is a deadly mesh of unknowns and unpredictability. The main take-away is that complicated environments are rife with risks; complex ones with uncertainty. Risks are calculable, uncertainty is not. So there.
Advertising industry - as it seems right now - has always dealt with complicated environments. And it's been incredibly good at this (think media buys, ad unit sizes, length of TV spots, and creative solutions that are meant to fit these formats). It's been good because it operates as a simplification machine. Think simple has become a mantra and a signpost: we were thought to come up with a single killer insight, a compelling idea, one single business solution. Then we take it and multiply it throughout different touchpoints without paying attention to the complexity of each (no matter what transmedia planning claims).
Our solution to complexity has been simplification and multipliction. We have been fending off complexity through offering coherence. Even if we don't want to admit it, we end up in the business of resizing: how does this solution fit on the billboard; ok now, how does this same solution fit on an iPhone?
This approach worked for a while, no doubt. It still largerly works. To see how and where it may fail, the best is to use quote from Apple's CEO. No, not Jobs - the other one. The one that most of people would rather forget. When comparing Coke and Pepsi, John Scully said something along the lines, "Coke always focused on the drink. Pepsi focused on the person using it." Now, the catch here is that contexts - and people - using products have become incredibly interactive, networked, info-rich, collaborative, and all of that. Think the activity of cooking for example: it used to be pretty known where we get out inspiration/advice/resources. Not so much these days: there's always a new app, source, filter, community that become part of our cooking experimentation. People and their activities have become complex behavioral networks.
And our challenge is to align our thinking as an industry with the complexity of this environment.
The first step is not to try to simplify complexity. Instead, build things that can in this complexity thrive. Instead of awareness, acquisition, products, sales, media buys, prices, promotions, budget, and ownership, change deliverables (and language) into connections, generative relationships, interactions, new combinations, systems, renting, etc. The best online creativity is alive - it's a medium for a ton of other things, not the end result. Sticking to thinking about creativity in terms of the creative talent, creative agencies, or creative deliverables is bound to make us seek results that are efficient and repeatable (and, in fact, it is this repeatability that accounts for efficiency) - which in turn is bound to disable us, organizationally, from solving complex problems.
In the world of unknown unknowns, the idea is "to be less wrong than yesterday." This may mean focusing less on abstract goals (drive brand engagement/raise awareness) and more on concrete behaviors (how does this particular design solution lead to desired activity and business result). In this context, it will turn out that the best digital creative solutions are always about something else. Not everything is creativity. But creativity is everything.
This post can double as a farewell to delicious and a breakdown of what people in the industry were talking about in 2010. Plus some stuff I was into last year. I went through a million of my bookmarks that I saved over the course of the last 12 months, and here is the hand-picked result. Prominent topics (and this should come as no surprise) were: geo-location, mobile, gaming, social retail, virtual goods, and a few really really dumb initiatives. If you missed any of these articles, have a look.
My fav topic of digital creativity
Brands & Branding
Geo-location and its discontents
Complexity & Strategy
Mobile & Social Retail
The Internet of Things
The ivory tower conversations (a.k.a. the future of advertising and the future of agencies)
Loneliness, happiness, and other interesting things
Bonus: Hand-picked posts from I [love] marketing
Apparently, there's a new trend in the advertising industry. I sadly missed it, but some people claim that the top creatives are getting bored.
Now, I am not sure what exactly they are getting bored of, but I have a hunch. If I weren't belle de jour anymore, I'd probably also be annoyed and likely to blame everyone else for it: "oh, my job consists of too many meetings. This is no fun," "clients are 'know-it-all' assholes" and/or "people don't talk about my campaigns anymore." Absolutely heartbreaking, and I would be willing to shed a tear in that name, if I actually didn't know quite a few traditional ad creatives. Interesting breed. One told me a few months back that he'd love to go to Davos. Like, why? You make ads, my friend, and your only link to the world's economic imbalance is that you get 500K for it.
So when a dissatisfied traditional ad creative leaves their mother ship to create their own "incubator of breakthrough commercial ideas," I can't help but think that this 'new' trend in fact is masking something else. Because, when was the last time that a breakthrough commercial idea - the one that truly transcends the format of the medium - came from a traditional ad creative? Was it 2006? Was it 1993? A few days ago, I couldn't remember a single campaign of note. Instead, I could remember a lot of smart marketing ideas.
What it is masking is the fact that traditional advertising creativity has largely been marginalized. The "kick-ass" creative director and what he/she does is no longer culturally relevant as it used to be. Today's creativity is way more collective, iterative, and yes, humble. To deliver it, creatives got to move away from "I have an idea, and it's brilliant" MO: the artistry today is in creating environments where collective creativity can flourish.
Are the spin-off boutiques bearing the names of their founders such environments? Hardly. They, despite their fashionable mission statements, to the large extent replicate whatever David Droga or Gerry Graf have been doing all their careers and what they know how to do well.
It takes more than creating your own shop to catch up with creativity circa 2010. "For the unhappy creative mind still toiling in a big agency," Ad Age writes, "There are two choices: You can either, in Freudian terms, sublimate that ego or, in Lebronian lingo, you can take your talents elsewhere." Or - here's a crazy idea - you can realize that your creative talents need some serious updating. To be fair, there are notable exceptions: Edward Boches, an avid student by his own admission, did not decamp to create his own shop. Successfully, he is turning Mullen around from inside-out.
As for others: rather than being misunderstood geniuses unappreciated in their time, traditional creatives resemble more divas well past their prime. When they complain they are not having fun, I think: that's too bad. Because, the rest of us are having a ball.
Image credit: "This painting is not available in your country" Paul Mutant, 2010. Acrylic on canvas 12" x 10"
Marketing people love lists. They love making them, and then they love criticizing them. While the purpose of these lists is often unclear and their selections by default arbitrary, they can be said to offer a way to sort through people and bubble up those that are - by some criteria - better, more interesting, or more worthy attention than others.
Lists remind me of mass media. If you want to draw an instantaneous attention to something, put it on TV. If you want to draw attention to something or someone online, make a list. And here's the problem: web is not mass media. Web hates lists: it is a network, and if are to believe the bulk of research on how influence spreads there, we should value more a portfolio of "regular" individuals versus those who are somehow exposed (or, should I say, have a "voice"). Web is a cacophony of voices - and it likes it that way.
In practical terms, that means that we would be better of with a number of lists, or better yet, with no lists at all. Alas, things don't work that way. If we brush off all ego-grudge aside, there's something to lists. Why? Because people also display herd behavior, are easily influenced by others, and are prone to do what everyone else does. It just makes their life easier and simpler: why think, when we can just imitate?
I myself am prone to the same faulty reasoning, as it has recently been fairly pointed out to me. For example, only 20% of people I follow on Twitter are women. Why? Well, let's see. If people imitate each other, and if same people are consistently promoted, than the likelihood that they as hubs are going to get bigger can only increase. Nothing succeeds as success, as the saying goes. This also leads to decreased diversity and to so-called echo-chamber. In network terms, the world can only become smaller.
And that's exactly where the problem is. Are we, as a marketing industry, becoming an increasingly shrinking world? If so, the future is not bright: we are in the vast - and expanding - distributed network of the web that does not operate on the principle of lists. So why do we, whose job is to understand this world? As anthropologists would say, the best way to understand a culture is to become part of it.
For the sheer fun (and fairness) purposes, I put together yes, a list, of people that amuse me, inform me, educate me, and entertain me on a daily basis online. I'd prefer not to have a list at all, since I love serendipity and chance of the web, but I gathered people who rarely, if ever, make any other marketing list. But since it's Friday, let's make marketing world a little bigger.
There are a few things that ad people like more than to call out for someone's portfolio when in disagreement with that person. In a more modern version of the "show me your portfolio" theme, this means asking the question: "yes, but why listen to him? what has he actually done? I mean, what has he ever made?"
Beyond its occasional cameo in the spats that are advertising world's joie de vivre, this question is meant to mark a long-living perceived divide between people who make stuff - a.k.a. the creatives - and people who merely observe and talk about stuff - a.k.a. the strategists. Because, the reasoning goes, creativity is about "producing." In other words, to be creative, a person actually needs to make something tangible.
Hate to bring it up, especially because I don't have a portfolio to display, but this question doesn't make any sense.
First, it asks for a static commercial art piece (or a "portfolio" of these). Last time I've checked, those were very popular on television. Creativity regarded as a great copy, as an idea that makes a twist on a popular culture or that "captures the zeitgeist," or as a piece-of-art logo and print ad may indeed belong to the same era as those media that defined it.
Second, the question asks for an individual creative genius ("show me what you've done"). Because, if advertising award shows are to be trusted, there are people among us who are very very talented in making pretty and funny stuff. Sometimes they even earn the title of "Sir" for it, but if the Queen is busy and that falls short, at least they get to be called a "Guru." Which may be, in spiritual sense, even better.
And third, it asks for an agency ("why would I listen to this guy?"). Now, this being an unfair world, there are some agencies that are deemed to be more creative than others. What that usually means is that they are considerably better in making commercial art pieces for their clients that guarantee that those clients will make a pot of gold based on them. To prove this point, Crispin - in a streak of its usual genius - created a campaign that revolves around measuring girls' butts for Old Navy. Don't expect of advertising to get more creative than that.
Ok, let's fast-forward now to creativity of the digital world. Here, most creative stuff that people create are relationships, connections, and interactions (think 4Chan model, or Tumblr model, or Twitter, or what any startup is building right now, for example). They connect tools with behaviors, with geo-locations, and with objects. They create networks or systems, if you will. To be creative there, you need to be, well, strategic: you need to figure out who connects to whom, when and why, and to what result. Simply, you need to plan for a chain reaction.
So what happens next in this scenario? These networks then give way to a collective creativity to become visible for all to use it, build upon it, change it, and add to it. In the same way as the concept of "lone inventor" turned out to be a myth and the concept of "big idea" turned out to be hoax, the notion of "big name" in advertising may turn out to be a fake.
Simply, an "advertising genius" holds no chance against the bulk of digital people who make their creative talent visible - and available - the moment they turn their computer on. Worse yet, their focus on coming up with witty, funny, pretty or smart piece can turn out into a liability: this is not a templated world, and thinking bound to 30 seconds or 50x100 pixels or in any other given frame is bound to fall short. For the ad solution to be successful, it needs to fit with the network created by stuff that people are already doing, talking about, and acting upon. Again, without a template to hold onto, one needs to be strategic.
Finally, with all this collective creativity connected in a network, what to do with a handful of creatives holding the fort in ad agencies? As Edward Boches told me on Twitter the other day, "the most interesting stuff has been done with individuals: Lemonade, Uniform Project, Vaynerchuck - all better than brand farts." Why do we pay attention to them? Well, because they are doing something new, interesting, fun, and meaningful. And because no one knows where a good idea is going to come from, why limit it in advance to a creative team?
The bottomline is that digital creativity may as well end up having to do as much with observing as it does with making. Or, as Warren Bennis put it, "there are two ways to be creative. One can sing. One can dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish." At the end of the day, to create something needs both.
All of this is fun stuff, and it's best to let people who face these challenges every day answer it. This is why I created an all-girl + a super-woman SxSW panel where one creative and three strategists talk about this stuff. Why all girl panel? Well, not to be all bra-burning about it, but hanging out only with guys can get so boring sometimes.
Once upon a time, everybody knew the answer to the question of strategy. But, don't be fooled: this fact has nothing to do with strategists' definitions of their own discipline; it actually has everything to do with an environment where strategies were executed. That environment was really predictable, clear, and stable.
There, strategists - not avid doers by nature - assumed a comfortable position of mostly observing the field from their elevated spot. Tricky as they are, they took pride in their talent of seeing everything that is going on in their business, brand, and consumer landscape. They were confident in predicting the next business move, and the next one, and the one after that. The whole strategic wisdom resided in optimizing a given set of alternatives, specifying a particular course of action, and committing to it. They knew what resources they had, they knew what their goal way, and simply enough, that their job was to connect the two. Sweet & simple, yet so antiquated.
At that ancient time, it was easy to say, "strategy is how you create value," "strategy is how you make money," or "strategy is how you use your finite resources to achieve your goal" (oh, actually: for some people, it's still easy to say that).
Ok, now, let's rewind to the present. What we are dealing with is messy, unpredictable, and hard to measure. It's complex. It's no longer possible to observe and predict enough to map out courses of action that guarantee desired outcomes. If you commit to a certain alternative, you may end up being dead. Turns out, a solid strategy may as well be your biggest liability.
In this context, we can't say anymore that strategy is "how we create value" and here is why. Simply, we don't know in advance what's valuable - or what may turn out to be valuable - to people online. Our criteria and our definitions of value don't work there. What the sources of value for people there are - free access, sharing, creating, participating, interacting - may not necessarily be valuable to business itself. In fact, it may seriously undermine it. Yet, there's ton of sources of value online. Best businesses of the past few years focused on making visible the network of connections between people, between things, and among the two. They didn't know in advance if there's any businesses value in those connections: they mostly believed that, if they create conditions for all those ties to be exposed, that new sources of value will emerge. And they did. How fast we run, how much gas our car uses, where do we go, what do we buy, what do we like, who do we talk to - all turned out to be potentially lucrative. Truth is, making this info visible also created new behaviors, changed how people do things, make product decisions, and form brand preferences. All of this unforeseen and sometimes not very obvious, yet very relevant. What these new businesses knew is that their strategy is a process of not creating, but understanding value: where it resides, how it has been exercised, and how it's distributed through this space.
And this is precisely why we also can't say anymore that strategy is "how we make money." Web certainly doesn't lack an entrepreneurial streak: people create value for themselves, and for each other; start-ups create value for people and for themselves. Is what's valuable on the web always (if at all) aligned with brands' money-making goals? Not necessarily. More importantly, should it be? Where exactly in this system either people or startups need to worry about if an advertising agency or a brand makes money? Further yet, why would they want them to make any money at all? And then, there's this trick: does the business of making information and connections visible - no matter how valuable - equal to making money? Not always the case. Facebook, for the longest time, didn't know what's its main source of revenue (our privacy?), Twitter didn't know (early bird?), and Foursquare still doesn't know. What they know - and know it well - is to react to opportunities that arise quickly and unexpectedly. And because these companies deal mostly just with creating conditions that make possible for the unexpected value to show up, they don't restrict their money-making options to a limited number of alternatives. Nor should they.
Then, here's why we can't say anymore that strategy is "how you use your finite resources to achieve your goal." Hate to break the news, but the resources are finite only if you make them so. What's worrisome here is the possibility that someone working online would even consider relying only on their own, by default limited resources, instead of utilizing the bulk of existing ones, or even creating conditions for new resources to show up? (No, I am not talking about crowdsourcing here, but basically about everything that people are doing online; all their actions can be used/amplified/facilitated/turned into a resource). At the end of the day, we are dealing with a hybrid behavior of people and technology, and the more distributed our resources, the better off we are. But, there's also something else here: on the web - it being so tricky with value and moneymaking and all - we often really don't know in advance either what resources we are going to need to achieve some goal or how to allocate them. Those who think they do, are either already out of business, or delusional (or both). For the rest of us, the best we can do is to see which connections have the biggest generative potential, and pour more resources into those.
So if strategy based on value predictions, projections, and finite resources doesn't make much sense anymore, what are we left off with? We got to accept that value online comes from very different and unexpected sources, and that we should not restrict our understanding if it in advance; that value is not always going to equal money on the short-term, and that this thus may not be the best way to inform our actions; and that our resources are as vast as we make them, and that how we allocate them depends more on the environment than on our strategic plan. Having all of this in mind, the best we can do is to try to work on providing conditions to make things happen: things like new behaviors, new connections, new sources of value, and new resources. The money will follow. Or not. But one thing is certain: the world that strategists work in is under active construction and there's no blueprint. For the first time ever, we are part of the construction crew: we are not directing it. And we need to reinterpret a lot of things that we have been regarding as fixed, and also probably come up with a new language to describe what the hell we are doing.
If so, here's an amazing opportunity. MDC Partners offers you a million dollars for 51% stake in your new ad agency. Sounds like a sweet deal. A sweet deal for MDC, that is.
There's at least one problem with this whole idea. First, I can't help but think that it came a decade too late; back then, ambitious and smart people were obsessed with founding agencies, and the hefty amount would be more than welcome in those dot-com bust days. (A side note: even back then, doubt that someone would be happy with a 51% cut, but anyway).Today, ambitious and smart people fund their own tech startups, and in what may come as a great surprise to MDC execs, none of those startups deal with advertising business.
Simply, "great talent" today has actually figured that money's not in advertising. It's in many, many other things that you can create, build, and execute online. If brands wants to use those things - that's great. But MDC's criteria that, in order to be considered for their contest, you need to do "brilliant work, you want to make brands famous, and you want to drive results for clients" sound, in the context of digital innovation, close to arrogant. Guess what, smartest kids in town are a little bit more ambitious than making some brand famous.
Second, if the idea is so awesome, why VCs or angels haven't already thought of it? VCs are notorious for NOT investing in agencies. Now, those guys are entrepreneurial, money-making oriented people, willing to invest in anything and everything with a potential to return their investment. So, if they are investing in plethora of start-ups, yet curiously leave agency business aside, there must be a reason for it. Hint: not enough money.
And third: there may be, after all, some people who, in MDCs own words, say "let's spend our lunch hours for the next three weeks putting something together." I am sure there are plenty of those who dream about having their own agency during their lunchtime (for the rest of us is still hard to simultaneously sleep and eat, but those are very talented individuals). The main problem is that those people are going to have their own agency almost always through client relationships, or to put it more crudely, by stealing a client away from their current employer. Worse things have happened.
The bottom line is that all those smart, entrepreneurial, and driven people whom MDC wants to entice with a lucrative 49% offer are already doing something else. That something else is curiously unrelated to marketing communication, and now may be the time for MDC to ask themselves why (maybe someone should offer them a million bucks to figure it out, too. Wouldn't bet, tho.)
Not only those people are doing something else, they manage to find money for it without help of a traditional industry middleman, be it in advertising agency or a publishing company. Just ask Bud Caddell. Instead of asking a publisher to back up his first book, Bud has secured the funding according to the true rules of the web, by asking people to contribute through KickStarter (Bud's book itself is a collaboration, too.)
But the biggest, and a very real problem is that brands have also figured this out. They are starting to give money to startups directly (think PepsiCo10) in exchange for collaboration in the relatively new marketing areas of mobile and social media. Some industry people have apparently figured some of this too, as they created Victors&Spoils. These things are new, interesting, and where the money and action are.
So, yeah, an awesome idea, MDC. I'd almost say "a million dollar one," but that brings me too close to home.
It's not rare that advertising and ego go together. Just look at the recently ended Cannes Ad Festival - amid all that mad twittering about how many times someone has seen Ben Stiller, how hungover a person is, or whether someone has lost their voice from all those drunken conversations at the Gutter Bar - it is a celebration of individual creativity, personal talent & genius, and creative accomplishments in advertising. Yes, in advertising. You are not helping people do something better, you help companies to sell more products. Congratulations.
Yet, it seems incredibly hard to keep this perspective in mind, and to sort of realize that advertising celebrity is, well, not a "real" celebrity - if that still means anything. Just an example: the fact that Jeff Goodby is finally on Twitter even has become a recent news item in an industry trade publication. You can follow him here, if you get over the fact that, as a primer of sheer advertising genius, his name there is Jeff Badby. I am, personally, blown away by the creative twist.
Or, if you want to know Alex Bogusky's globe-trotting whereabouts, just go to the new MDC site. There, in Alex's own words, you can, with a little help of time slider, follow around MD execs. That is, if you really want to know. (I wonder if a paid team of paparazzi is next, just in case we are curious what David Doft ate.) Alex adds that MDC highlights great individual talent, and apparently, high-tech stalking is the best way to convey it.
And exactly there resides the biggest problem of turning people who are successful in advertising into something of a rare and special species (of course, aside of the apparent obnoxiousness of that whole deal). And that problem is: if digital media offer any lesson, it is that creativity, talent, and an accomplishment are not an individual thing. Gone are the days of David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach fame (actually, they are still alive and well in Cannes, not that anyone cares); new things are now are created incrementally, collaboratively, and interactively. The same way that small ideas fare better than big ones online, small contributions combined into something new and interesting that grows over time and through even more contributions, may as well replace a lone "creative genius" of the past.
So what do we have now? Aging "gurus" with their agency machines well oiled to generate "big ideas" vs. hundreds of startups with their small ideas + the digital environment that is exceptionally good in creating a shared value and in continuously introducing new forms of cultural capital. Who has, in the long run, better chances in succeeding?
Of course, if everything else fails, ad execs can always put themselves in an ad.
In a recent NYT review of her new book, "The Art of Choosing," Sheena Iyengar says that "Human beings are born to choose. But human beings are also born to create meaning. Choice and meaning are intertwined. We use choice to define our identities, and our choices are determined by the meanings we give them, from advertising-driven associations to personal relationships and philosophical commitments."
To this, behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely, responds: yes, we may use choice to define our identities. But we are also hopelessly irrational. We may think that our choices are determined by the meanings we give them, but in fact, this is an illusion.
Why? We have, as humans, a need to create meaning. To do so, we tend - the same as with sight and memory - to fill the stuff in in order to close the gaps that we can't see, remember, or make sense of. And what we can't see or remember or make sense of, we simply invent. We do the same thing when it comes to our choices: we make a decision first, and then tell stories about it after the fact.
This is interesting. On a daily basis, each one of us make incredible amount of decisions based on limited information. Because we are not quite aware how we do it (cognitive blindness), we often resort to some form of rationalization and/or to claiming that we trusted our gut. And this is precisely what gets us into trouble: it opens up an incredibly vast space for systemic, predictable mistakes. In other words, out of our craving for meaning, we submit to illusions.
Alright, but how do we really make decisions then? Ariely claims that we in fact turn to local context to infer what we like and don't like. When situations are complex, defaults have incredible force on behavior. In other words, when there is a lot to choose from, we submit to people who make interfaces: who gather, organize, and present information to us and who opt to make some of that information a default. (Have you ever wondered why Amazon managed to sustain a continuous growth in the past two years when all other business suffered, or why in Fresh Direct-s "natural" navigation there isn't a single item that belongs to low-priced grocery?) Beyond just mere defaults, it turns out that social and cognitive clues in our immediate decision-making context count more than, for example, brand associations. A study titled "Rethinking Brand Contamination" demonstrated that people value luxury brands based on whether an individual carrying it wears expensive clothes or has a look of a rich person. Without these additional cues or context, observers were less likely to differentiate between regular and luxury products. Additionally, they were willing to pay a way higher average price for a luxury bag when they saw if against a neutral background. Another study, conducted by Nielsen Bases unit, found that in-store marketing has significant advantage over television as a leading medium for creating awareness of new products. What does this tell us about the way we define brand equity?
Then, in situations when people don't have anchor how to behave, which is the case when we create something new or design new environments (think Apple iPhone and iPad and Twitter and Foursquare), the latitude of defaults and design clues becomes enormous. When we make decisions, we make them in silos, and we don't compare them across categories. All it took Starbucks to establish its empire was to call its coffee a different name to separate themselves from other coffee shops (and to make us pay 3 times more for a cup of coffee than we normally would). Similarly, the genius of Apple was not to lose sight of elements of design of environments it created (including naming its product, iBooks being the latest example) - knowing that's an incredible force in people's decision making. While eBooks may have had been a failed concept in the past decade (and while consumers were ready to pay no more than $9.99 for an "e-book"), the books that we can now download on our iPads are called "i-books" (something associated with Apple) and they will cost more - as much as $14.99 - which we are ready to pay for.
While these insights might have had a limited business and marketing power at the time before digital media (brand advertising is what counted back then), today we encounter a digital interface in almost any decision that we make - from choosing two products in a store, to deciding how much money to donate to a political campaign, how much time to spend interacting with some brand or how much personal information to reveal while doing it.
This is to say that findings like above cannot anymore happily remain in the domain of "interesting things to think about" but should be taken seriously. Defaults, social and cognitive clues, and designs all have a powerful impact on our behavior. They steer us towards "self-herding", which refers to our tendency to, once we made first decision, stick to it. Our first choice also influences all consequent ones, and the reason we do so is that we don't remember our emotional states or why we made a decision - we only remember our actions. The only think we need to do then is to repeat them, and this is how habits (or, brand loyalty) are formed. In other words, it our actions create - they do not reveal - our preferences.
Ok, now back to Sheena Iyengar and brands. Results of her famous jam experiment started a powerful trend of thinking that too much choice is not good for us. But neither is less choice. Interesting part is that the way we talk about brands in digital environment today fits here perfectly: James Surowietcki and Umair Haque claim that too much information about products kills brands; Erick Schmidt and others, claim that information abundance, in fact, makes brand more important than ever. Those who are in-between say that we should think of brands as filters for all this information, which is just another way of saying that the only reason that shoppers don't suffer a nervous breakdown in a cereal isle is that they, in fact, eerily recall all those awesome brand associations that make their hand reach one box of cereal over another.
Where does all of this leave us? Instead of thinking like the little Goldilocks who wants "just right" amount of information to simplify things, we should in fact embrace complexity full-force and turn to exploring the ways we gather, organize, and present the crazy amount of information that we encounter every day. In other words, when we talk about choice today, let's talk now about defaults, social clues, product categories, and a design of our decision-making contexts.
People indeed do have cognitive limitations that skew their choices in certain ways that we are not aware of - that's a fact - but now they also have this powerful digital tools that can act like our decision-making scaffolds and that can make us aware of all our mental illusions that we could not see before. And our ability to see all those factors that influence how we choose may reduce our need to invent explanations for our behaviors.
The same goes for marketing. The way things are still largely done in the industry is make decisions first, tell enticing stories about it after the fact (which only left us with a profound disagreement on what kind of advertising slogans and marketing campaigns work and what doesn't). It is not surprising then that, when we encountered way too many gaps in behavior of people and technology, our solution was to fill them out with what "makes sense" to us based on what we already know (all cognitive errors work in the same way.) This, in turn, opened a vast space for systematic, predictable mistakes ("let's create another brand video game, and to hell with it.") Our craving for meaning as an industry allowed us to submit to powerful illusions - such are brand image and brand promise and our definitions of brand equity and brand value. This sort of cognitive blindness opens up some uncomfortable questions. But so what.
Once they created a Twitter account, and a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, or a Foursquare badge, brands often have very little idea about what to do there next.
This is a quite common problem.
Why? Well, social media are still to the large extent regarded as the domain of brands' PR departments, rather than a marketing activity. The classic Procter&Gamble's two step way of promoting brands, "spend a large amount of money to maintain the 'share of voice'" and "tirelessly remind consumers of your products' 'unique value proposition'" just replicated itself online. Maybe unfairly, I tend to put brands' crowdsourcing efforts (CP+B's Brammo, MyStarbucksIdea, Kraft's Vegemite spread, in the same category of smart PR gimmicks. Is this really about "co-creating the future of the company with your customers" or about your brand promotion?
Ok, look at this now. According to Social Radar, top social brand for April 2009 was Twitter, and then Google, Obama, iPhone and Facebook. Abrams Research survey of 200 participants in the Social Media Week last year shown that Zappos, Obama, CNN, NYT, Dell and Jet Blue are top choices for social media leaders.
I would add here Whole Foods' and SchnitzelTruck's use of Twitter, and YouTube's streaming of Super Bowl as my favs. The biggest lost opportunity: Tide detergent (how many times do we need immediate advice on removing stains?). It is even more lost opportunity because Tide has a pretty elaborate website so it would be quite neat to tie Twitter into their existing efforts. Integrated program, anyone?
In any event, the ranking above is interesting. Because, most of the brands that made the list are services. Which means that they do something for their customers. Which then also means that they use social media in the same manner. And this makes them the best. (Adrian Ho started saying this long time ago and recently posted an excellent presentation about it.) Rick Webb also recently observed something smart and funny: "What is with the Internet that no one wants to provide professional services? It's like everyone working on the web wants to start a car manufacturer instead of selling and repairing cars. Well let me ask you this: how many people got rich starting a car company? And how many people got rich starting a dealership, a dealership chain or a repair garage? A lot fuckin’ more. Will it make you a billion dollars? No. Do you need a billion dollars? No."
And while I am at it, let's take the idea a step further and say, as Adrian (again) already did, that "the best marketing isn't always separate from operations; often, the best marketing is great operations. Turn what you are already doing for customers into marketing." Now, if it were real, the LV campaign above would be just perfect example of this sort of thinking (use your own unique craft + distinct skills + internal processes + company's culture + different aspects of doing business to market yourself). After all, THAT is your only true differentiator from everyone else.) "Behind the scenes" and "Making of" videos that people love so much are a midget version of this idea.
Ok. So now what?
The problem that we currently have with social media is just going to replicate itself on Foursquare. Brands using Foursquare for badges is the same thing as them using social media only for conversation. Case in point: "The benefits for companies include increased footfall and the recruitment of a network
of brand ambassadors who will pass on recommendations to their friends and Twitter followers" (via BrandRepublic). Where did we hear that one before?
As more and more brands make deals with Foursquare, they will do things to increase their "share of voice" and will push for their "unique value proposition" through ever increasing number of badges. The more badges there are, the less people are going to care.
Why? Because, and in addition to many many other things, badges are prone to losing their motivating value: "when getting started, the points system can be motivating, but after users attain a high level of points, the incentive no longer works." (says psychological research)
Cool. Now, while free stuff is always and forever be popular (drinks for mayors, specials, coupons, etc.), people also will also want some tangible service/relevant reward that helps them in some way. Just as they already want on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.
As smartest of brands have already figured out, they need to be more strategic (no, PR thinking is not enough). And, they also need to be more aligned with the core programs of the Foursquare platform. Which means that, if Foursquare itself aims to inspire people to lead more interesting social lives, then the first question is how does your brand further that goal?
For example, I liked what HBO has done at Foursquare, mostly because they were smart enough to bring in partners like Racked and Eater. On the other hand, I had a feeling that Zagat could have done so much more (e.g. I keep thinking that FoodSpotting and Foursquare would be a nice service combo).
What does being more strategic on Foursquare mean? Well, it's possible to think of it as a smart frequent flier/loyalty program, where consumers' behavior is influenced in incremental steps. How? Keep in mind that few things motivate people more than approval from others. Then, provide relevant info (tips and recommendations) that help people do some activity better (go to the gym, ride a train, go out on a school night). Educate them (so many opportunities there). Integrate what you are doing on Foursquare with already existing stuff that you are doing on Twitter, FB, and website in a meaningful way (so no, I don't mean just broadcasting "hey i am here" info). Tie people's points or tips or whatever info into their other related activities (eating out and walking, going out and sleeping, running and weight loss, etc ... this would require collaboration between Foursquare and other info tracking apps, but I guess that's what being strategic is about). So, yes, think partnerships.
Brands today have behavior-changing systems at their disposal. Why waste them only on conversation?
That's like using a computer as a calculator. Or iPhone to talk.
This is something I have been thinking for a while, actually ever since people on Twitter started wondering how is it possible for a platform to be announced as a "Digital Campaign of the Decade." Then, yesterday, I came across this article called "Campaigns Die, But Platforms Live and Grow" over at the Organic's blog (of all places).
If we move beyond just marketing semantics, the difference between the platform and a campaign is the one between the idea and its implementation. Suitably, Nick Law of R/GA said something like this a while ago: "The issue with the branding companies is that they have always been separate from the execution. ... The nature of branding industry is that they create something that they hand off."
Now, in digital it's not so easy to just "hand things off," isn't it? This is because more often than not we face clients' requests without really knowing in advance that our digital solution will be or how it it going to unfold in reality. Instead of facing a simple campaign task that can be resolved by a plain dilemma like "should we spend more time and effort on developing strategy or focusing on implementation?" we are challenged with perplexing situations (yup) with uncertain outcomes. We are developing something new and sure as hell we don't have a manual on how to do it.
Fine, now let's tie this uncertainty in strategy vs. implementation combo. First, where does uncertainty come from? It comes from the fact that digital creates so many unexpected and non-obvious connections between people and technology and products. Just think Nike+ or Foursquare or Twitter or Fiat Eco Drive or as more recent examples, Pepsi Refresh or Unilever's and Coke's taking their budgets from campaigns to "social media platforms". Or even go further, to mobile, and think Red Laser iPhone app where we can immediately get all possible reviews on products right in front of us (who cares about the brand promise in this situation?) This trend is just going to continue: with each new technology, the unexpected behaviors and non-obvious info resources only multiply. Predicting who is going to get connected there and how and what kind of info will they get is close to impossible.
Now, which format is better to deal with this whole digital uncertainty? A campaign or a platform?
Unlike a branding campaign, which usually aims only to extend delivery of the brand promise to digital space and end after a certain short period of time, a platform has as its core properties both unpredictable results and the fact that unfold as they go. Simply, it's the definition of a platform to grow over time and through use. And this is its winning card: instead of wrestling with uncertainty, they place it right at the middle of what they are doing.
So, to answer my question from the title - yes, campaign vs platform debate in digital is moot. Online, there should be no campaigns.
*Bill Bernbach (Somewhere in California, Google silently laughs). I have always been slightly surprised by the ease with which marketing professionals assert causality between brand symbols and product sales: "it's pure art, and we have no idea what's the mechanism, but it works!"
Why do I say this? I recently came across the list of top 10 slogans and the list of top 100 advertising campaigns of the century. Do they have anything in common? No. Do we know why they worked? No. Yet, there's a list.
This is the problem called Everything is Obvious in Retrospect.
And it would not be so interesting as a problem (people make cognitive mistakes all the time, after all) if it weren't for its impact on the millions of dollars in brands' investment. Someone said "the great idea in advertising is in the realm of myth.” This means that people still think, in great numbers, that a good ad or a slogan is a question of art and inspiration and accident. An inescapable conclusion follows: brand symbols are critical for a brand's commercial success, but their influence is a matter of chance more than anything else.
That's like going to a horse race and betting on a unicorn.
Yet, brands are still doing exactly that. Why? First, they don't know what else to do or how to do it. Second, and more importantly, they genuinely believe it works.
And why do they believe it? Because they can easily observe successful examples of what worked in the past, and conclude that they can do it as well. So, they say, "I want my brand to be a new Apple. Or, I want something like Foursquare. Or, I want Nike+"
Okay, now: why didn't you ask for a Foursquare before the Foursquare was invented?
In marketing, we know what is a success story only after it, well, succeeds. And if we can feel that we can explain why they worked, it is only because we look at them from a vantage point of the future. That is, we say that something was effective only after we have already seen its effects.
Why is this a problem? Because this is how we start planning our campaigns: from their effects. Better yet, we start from their imagined effects. We imagine something groundbreaking, some ubiquitous future cultural artifact, or another iPhone. In that, we are no different from our clients. Our ambitions are so immense, that we never stop for a second to think about a solution that can work, right now, and work really well. We are so obsessed with the future rewards, that we under-deliver.
And all of this would be okay if it was an individual cognitive mistake. When the whole industry is based on a faulty reasoning, this is a problem.
“Let us prove to the world,” said the aforementioned Bill Bernbach in the 1960s, “that good taste, good art, good writing can be good selling.”
Fifty years later, the proof is still missing. It might be time to try something else.
(photo courtesy of Vintage Ad Browser)
Yesterday, I've seen Adrian Ho's post "Blending Skills in New Ways" over at Zeus Jones' blog. It reminded me of stuff that I read in organizational theory a few years back. Mostly, it reminded me that recombination is not sufficient for innovation.
Instead, it is a productive friction between multiple perspectives that secures continued adaptation in the face of complexity. While Joseph Schumpeter did say that innovation is recombination, he also said that innovation is deeply disruptive of the things that we, as professionals, take for granted in our work. This means that the more disagreements and disruptions we can create in our organizations, the better off we are.
Why is this the case?
More often than not, we start client’s challenges these days without really knowing in advance what the solution will be. We also don’t know which solution will succeed. This is because we are not addressing a specific, neatly formulated problem - we are addressing the whole complex brand’s environment.
Innovation involves bringing together incompatible and diverse points of view, and this process is not harmonious. Every time there’s a successful recombination (think Twitter, for example: it’s a combination between people’s tendency to lifestream and a txt-like technology), it is only because the technology and strategy worked from the starting point of their differences. The Twitter team didn’t know what they will come up with, simply because they didn’t in advance formulate the problem as “let’s make Twitter.”
If they did, then the question of innovation would be the one of mere implementation - which is what people who are savvy in both strategy and technology do: they are capable of implementing their ideas. But, these days, we need a hell lot more than just implementation.
So, rather than altering your production staff or replacing your strategic resources, it’s better to let them keep their differences and make them interact as much as possible. In the resulting productive friction reside solutions for the complex problems.
I find it interesting how the question of influence is always addressed from the influencers' point of view. It's always, how big is someone's social network? how many people they reach? who is the most connected?
Very rarely, we talk about following.
This is, of course, not entirely surprising. In our culture, influence is equaled with originality, creativity, uniqueness, creation, and all of that. In contrast, following is about imitation, receptiveness, replicating, adopting, etc. Naturally then, everyone wants to be (or to think about themselves as) an influencer. No one really wants to say, "I am a follower."
Yet, we all are.
Some of the people I enjoy following on Twitter the most are those who are easily influenced themselves - they are curious, they like exploration, and they always discover unexpected things. Everything seems to influence them - new ideas, new stuff, new content. They don't really create any of that, they are just really receptive, really imitative, and really susceptible to influence. Truth is, if they weren't so easily influenced, they would be able to share so much stuff with others.This is of course not incredibly new. My friend Duncan has been talking about "easily influenced people influencing other easily influenced people" for a while now. But what reminded me of all of this is actually a recent Fast Company article "Is Imitation the Hidden Key to Creativity?", and its (much better written) original source, "The Curious Threshold for Creativity". They talk about a social study that explored how ideas spread and discovered that about "30% of people should create while the rest imitate." This may sound weird taken out of context, but it points out to a bigger idea of the article: "organizations and societies that spend too much time on ideas see their overall fitness decline." Which then reminded me of the exploration/exploitation balance thing from some time ago...
More interesting, tho, is a conclusion that creative ideas can spread if they are actually adopted by others. This means, in order to encourage adoption of an idea, you don't need a handful of influencers, you just need a really lot of followers.
p.s. And sometimes, a mere exposure to something actually works really well. Which makes all those "let's create a cool ad campaign", "make something interesting", and "do big ideas matter?" discussions a little bit, well, irrelevant. Too much creativity and not enough imitation "makes ideas die, because there are so many of them and few ever catch fire." Imitators, as it turns out, play an important role in society: they act as a kind of memory, storing the successful creative stuff for the future. I'd really like to hear someone to say, let's reach the followers.
At some point last week, I came across on Facebook a quote from a New Yorker article on Mad Men that Noah put there. This reminded me of a post that I have written here more than a year ago about the wonders of Mad Men popularity. The main thing that puzzled me back then was not why people watch Mad Men, but more interestingly, why now? Would this show be popular in the nineties? Or even, 7-8 years ago? Is there anything in the current time + the state of media & advertising that provided a set of circumstances for its topics to be popular right now?
Perhaps. At first, I thought that Mad Men popularity may be accidental. (It never actually is). I mean, the show that takes place in the 60's, depicts professional+private relationships on the time long gone (and not particularly missed), and is set is set in a traditional advertising agency world, is so popular right now when that same world has almost been transformed beyond recognition?
Well, maybe precisely because of this transformation. The narrative pretty clearly reflects the "glorious past", "legendary times", and (currently considered) "mythical events" (think yapping gender inequality).
Every group (professional, generational), culture, and nation has these legendary times and events. That's not new. More interesting is when and why they start to dig them out. Usually, it's at the times of overwhelming uncertainty.
This uncertainty can precede some giant turmoil, a dramatic break with the past, or the final stages of one kind of order and its replacement with something else. For example, 1930s Germany rediscovered its mythical past at times of incredible economic crisis and wounded national pride just before WWII and the crash of the Weimar Republic; Churchill frequently recalled memories of Lord Nelson before difficult and bloody war battles; and the current New York has been trying really hard to remind us of the old New York amid all the new condos via, for example, last year's movies "The Wackness" and "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist." Hard times indeed call for the glorious past.
But so do the uncertain ones. Uncertainty does not need to signify some impeding change; it can also be the result of continuous, volatile, and unpredictable changes. In this case, uncertainty actually becomes an enduring condition - a state of affairs in itself and by itself. When people loose footing - when they face things they can't easily explain with what they know, when they are forced to think about doing things differently, and when they can't really rely anymore on the established rules, they need to cling to something.
Usually, this something is "good old times". And if history offers any lesson, epic memories come forth when they need to help us cope with change.
p.s. I suspect that a show set in a digital agency would be way less popular. But I may be wrong.
This morning, I read this excellent NYT article, "Making Health Care Better", by David Leonhardt. Although the article deals with something (almost) completely different, it reminded me of the increasingly mentioned need for measurement and empirical evidence of selected brand solutions in the marketing industry.
A far-fetched analogy? Perhaps. But it does tackle the "intuition" vs. "empiricism" approaches to the way we solve client's problems - in marketing. More often than not, in the absence of empirical criteria (or because of our unwillingness to look for it), we rely on our intuitive reasoning instead of on the observation.
And more often than not, we judge the work of others based on our taste, intuition, and relationships we have with those who made that work.
And that's the problem. According to the article, "Intuition is not simply belief; it springs from this knowledge. A doctor making an intuitive diagnosis is doing so on the basis of thousands of hours spent treating patients. The problem, however, is that the mind is not particularly good at sorting through this knowledge and weighing different parts appropriately. We give too much weight to information that confirms our suspicions or that is highly memorable."
How can we then decide that a campaign was "better" than another one? We rarely look at a campaign data - partly because the actual metrics data is proprietary and not available to anyone beyond walls of an agency and of their clients. What we do is rely on our experience.
But ... "When a person says, ‘In my experience,’ what’s actually happening is you’re being dominated by one or two recent cases that you can recall or by some distant case that was either particularly good or particularly bad." Famous behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman claims that "Intuitive diagnosis is reliable when people have a lot of relevant feedback. The feedback needs to come quickly and to be clear."
General, and generally available, feedback mechanisms and benchmarks for success don't really exist. While it may not have been possible before to know exactly if a TV/print/outdoors/radio campaign influenced particular brand affinity and purchase decisions, digital lets us do things differently.
This means that we don't have to judge works of others purely on elusive criteria of "creativity", but on actual data on how this creativity fared with people (what did they do? and what did they do next?). It's not that we don't talk about this stuff - we may even be talking too much. The problem is that we don't do enough about it:
"The explosion of medical research over the last century has produced a dizzying number of treatments for different ailments. To enter mainstream use, any such treatment typically needs to clear a high bar. It will be subject to randomized trials, statistical-significance tests, the peer-review process of academic journals and the scrutiny of government regulators. Yet once a treatment enters the mainstream — once we know whether it works in certain situations — science is largely left behind. The next questions — when to use it and on which patients — become matters of judgment, not measurement. The decision is, once again, left to a doctor’s informed intuition."
And then, there's aversion to criticism. (Unfortunately, not everyone reacts like Alex Bogusky to a critique. I thought his humility is a great example: "I was just so excited to have a review in LA Times that the fact that it was harsh didn't really hurt my feelings much. To survive 20+ years in the advertising industry, my feelings dried up and blew away long ago. I do miss them. But without feelings in the way it was easy to appreciate how lucky I was to even get reviewed.") The rest of us, however, often choose to ignore - or worse yet, devalue - anything that suggest an alternative:
"The journal Health Affairs will soon publish a survey of the chairmen of more than 700 hospitals. Its main message is that many hospitals are not even aware of what they do well and what they don’t. The physicians who conducted the survey, Ashish Jha and Arnold Epstein, gave the chairmen a list of issues — including financial performance, organizational strategy and the quality of health care — and asked them to name their board’s two top priorities. Roughly half did not name the quality of care. Yet the chairmen said they believed that the care at their hospitals was above average. Even at those hospitals that Medicare data suggest are among the worst in the country, 58 percent of the chairmen said they thought their hospital was above average. Not a single one said the hospital was below average."
Turns out, the main problem is not admitting that we can do our job better. The problem is pretending that we can't.
There are some good questions there on Andy Awards blog. They are all the usual suspects, but no matter - they are relevant for the industry, and that's what counts.
First of them is "Do big ideas still matter?" This is the ad industry favorite. Everyone loves the big idea. They love it even more if its theirs. The whole current ad industry model, with its awards and "show me your portfolio"-type of expertise, is based on who had more good ideas in the past.
When we think about and give examples of big advertising ideas, we do that only after an idea had already become big (otherwise, we wouldn't know about it - right?). In other words, we don't know if something's big until it, well, becomes big.
And then we treat it as a sufficient explanation for its success. For "Got Milk?" we say, "it resonated well with consumers"; for "Dove Evolution" we say "it tapped into needs of the target"; for "Do the Right Thing" we think "it's a great summary of the experience". If these big ideas have not - for some reason or another - become big, we would say "they missed the target", "they projected the wrong image" or, "they don't know their audience."
The problem is, we don't know any of this in advance. We simply don't know why and how a campaign idea becomes big. An analysis of Ad Age's "Top 15 Slogans of the Century" reveals that there isn't a single rule: "Even an informal Internet study shows there is little agency agreement on what makes a great slogan. Just determining the essential ingredients is still a mystery."
We also don't know if an alternative to a proven big ideas (Dove Evolution, Got Milk, Do the Right Thing) might have been even bigger and better. Big ideas never have an alternative.
And then, we like to attribute brand and sales lifts to our campaigns, in a "before-and-after manner". But simply because something happened in between before and after, do we have enough info to claim a causal relationship? Free coupon redemption may spike when we release free coupons as a part of the campaign (an example that an ECD of a big digital agency recently used as a "proof" of his campaign success) but free coupon redemption would spike anyway and at any time when free coupons are released. Can you attribute this occurrence to your campaign - or, to an already existing dynamic of people's behavior?
Finally, we don't have anything - any benchmark or a control group - to compare our big idea-based campaign to. How do we know that our campaign is not, in fact, a complete failure under a given circumstances? Just because there was some effect, this does not mean that we can label it as a success. Maybe that very same campaign, tweaked a bit, would actually get way more users interested?
The truth is, we could know all of this. A little testing and experimentation and monitoring could actually answer the question of why some ideas become big and others don't. Why no one asks about that?
(the image of Pikachu found here)
It's a series of events, in fact, described as a "discussion and video series about planning and beyond", with the main purpose of exploring "the intersection of brands, strategy, innovation, and the world of account planning." The hope is to "spark a lively discussion, and inspire those working in the field."
That is great. Except, I am not sure how useful it can possibly be. Mostly because if planners talk about planning there will be a lot of ideas that planners have: a) already heard of, and b) are likely to agree with, even if they haven't yet heard of them.
There's an inherent problem with a business discipline trying to define itself.
First, planners who are exposed mostly to other planners' ideas, read other planners' blogs, and tend to agree with what's written there, will inevitably consolidate what they already know. This means that they will be less open to doing things differently, and to be able to offer a fresh perspective on business challenges they encounter.
Second, even if a planner comes up with a different idea, they won't be able to easily push for it, because it simply doesn't fit in what everybody's already agreed on. And lack of disruptive ideas kills innovation - and the evolution of account planning discipline.
And finally, and most importantly, there is also this. Whether a planner did a good or bad job is ultimately (in their everyday work) not assessed by other planners. It's assessed by everyone else - the people that planners work for: creatives, UX, developers, account people, project managers, and ultimately, the client. It is those people that are the planners' real audience.
So maybe we should ask them what they think how account planning may look like today - to help them do their job better.
Otherwise, it's just an echo-chamber. And this is its perfect example: "Planning was conceived as the thinking behind creativity. But the conventional planner has become a caricature: thinking in an ivory tower and post-rationalizing the doing of others. But today – as the industry, agency, and world-at-large have evolved – the definition of planning, and its future, is unclear."
Seems to me that, with this approach, we remain in an ivory tower. This time, without even realizing it.
(I took this image from Joe Van Wetering's blog. His drawings are pretty amazing.)
This is something I occasionally think about. A few days ago, I read a NewYorker article "The Things People Say" about web-facilitated polarization of political opinions. On a more general level, I found it interesting how people tend to guard their opinions once they are formed, rather than to expose them to a challenge.
Then, the other day, Michael Surtees observed something interesting: he noted that, in New York, there are a lot of "followers" in the digital industry. That is, people who actually start something and/or have a fresh perspective or an idea, are outnumbered by those who quickly (and uncritically) adopt and repeat the ideas of others.
The NewYorker article claims that this has always been the case, and that the Internet has just made it visible. And it made it very much so: just think all those "great post", "smart analysis", "agreed!" blog comments that offer validation of the opinion rather than to expose it to a discussion.
Does this mean that people working in digital marketing are very agreeable in general? Or, that they are easily influenced? Maybe they are just lazy? Or overly political? Or, they simply don't have an opinion of their own?
Or, they just really, truly, agree with everything that their colleagues write. If so, that's a problem.
An industry that claims to be based on disruption needs to nurture the culture of disruption. For disruptive ideas to happen, people need to, well, disagree.
A few pirates around would really help.
Look at the typical digital agency. It excels in exploring new
horizons. It supports a flat and loose organizational structure in
which a developer has access to the CEO. And it makes sure everyone’s
opinion is heard. It’s one big crazy family.
Digital agencies are having a ton of fun experimenting with ideas, technologies and strategies to find new alternatives superior to obsolete ways of doing marketing. That’s what they do best.
The problem is, this is the only thing they are doing.
When they are asked to actually follow through on their ideas, they often come up short. It is because they don’t know the business of marketing (or want to know it, for that matter), and they rarely have the organizational structure or past practices to guide them.
This comes at a cost. Digital agencies impress clients with their passion, drive, and technology knowhow. Clients then say: “You gave as a lot to think about.” which often came to mean that the account is awarded to someone else. Where digital shops fail is giving confidence to the client that all this momentum will be indeed executed in a well-led marketing campaign.
All of this is not new. It is already described in organizational theorist James March’s exploration vs. exploitation dichotomy. The best companies have the optimal balance between the two; those less successful are doing too much of either.
The other day I saw this article, "Human Behavior: a Key to Future Tech Developments" and didn't think much of it (not because I don't think the idea is super-important, but because very smart people have already written a lot about it in a much more interesting way.)
So anyway, this quote stayed with me: " "Microsoft and many other companies realize that since it is, after all, people who use technology, it's critical for the company to understand how people adapt to technology." But I didn't think of it in relation to customers but in relation to the "other group of people" in marketing who use it: the agencies.
I'd really like to go to a traditional ad agency and observe this. Because, in order to develop a good "fit" with its environment, any organization is challenged to "match its knowledge with the problems in the environment it operates" (Brook Manville). How they tag, code, organize, and communicate this knowledge depends on technology. It influences how an agency is organized. And, it also shapes how an agency perceives, relates to, and interprets its environment. So, if they are increasingly using digital media, that should change a bit ways they think about marketing. Or, it will change over time. Which is a good thing.
(photo found here).
This made me smile. On Friday, I was digging through my external drive with archived papers from my Ph.D. classes. Completely randomly, I came across a project that I pitched to consulting firm Booz, Allen&Hamilton - actually, to Randy Rothenberg, who was really nice to me and connected me with others at BoozAllen.
So, anyway, the project's called "The Evolving Role of Marketing in Media Companies", and the time is January 2005. It's sort of awesome how this question is still very relevant today.
Some highlights from the doc:
Media companies today don't take the full advantage of their internal resources and market opportunity. This is because they lack organizational structure, incentive, and functional areas to extract the maximum value from their resources to meet customers' needs. As media market changed, internal organizational structure and dynamics of media companies did not. For a company to effectively alter its offerings, a real internal change must occur - and because marketing is well positioned to strategically link external consumer information and company's internal assets, it has a key role in this process.
Two main organizational challenges in today’s media industry are how to achieve the organizational flexibility capable of adapting to a an environment with a high degree of uncertainty and what are the new strategies for value creation necessary given the evolved relationships between media companies and their markets. Specifically, the main organizational challenges are: a) How can media companies internally restructure such that their organization empowers a business model which meets the need of the fast-changing and complex media market plays? b) What kind of functional and organizational consolidation will cross-platform deals foster? c) what incentive structure need to be in place to encourage these behaviors, i.e. how to motivate and foster interdivisional collaboration that will enhance companies' potential for innovation and responsiveness for changing demands of the market?
There is a strong need for a coordinating unit that is strategically well positioned within a firm and to the market to leverage the company's internal assets allowing for adaptive and continued responsiveness to unpredictable environmental changes. Marketing departments can achieve such strategic position and that they will have an increasingly important coordinating role within media companies. The new role of marketing in media companies will potentially ensure both leveraging firm's assets and its competitive position in marketing services and/or with traditional marketing services providers.
All of this sounds terribly, terribly familiar. Just replace "media companies" with _______.
Occasionally, people in marketing industry talk about how to adapt their agencies to changes in the media environment. Every time I see something like that, it reminds me of the same question that media companies were asking themselves 4-5 years ago (no answer), and also reminds me of Hollywood.
Hollywood, as a matter of fact, did organizationally adapt to a relatively sudden change in its own environment (television, and then all other stuff that followed). So maybe there's a lesson there.
Before any other content industry, Hollywood was faced with the need to quickly and adaptively respond to fast-changing + unpredictable environment that was increasingly hostile to its business model of Fordist movie production (to make an analogy, think minisite/banners/video ads).
So, in order to survive this all this terrible hostility, Hollywood had to reorganize itself ... and move away from classical, vertically-integrated studio model towards a networked cluster. Hm.
There's an old article that talks about this: "Hollywood has mutated from an industry of classic huge vertically integrated corporations into the world's best example of network economy ... Hollywood's network economy isn't unique, it's just more evolved than most - and as a result offers a picture of how and where companies in all kinds of industries will do their work in the years to come. Eventually, every knowledge-intensive industry will end up in the same flattened, atomized state. Hollywood has just gotten there first."
Okay, so now what do those networked clusters mean? Well, industrial clusters like Hollywood or Sillicon Valley are places where a lot of firms are grouped in immediate proximity. So it's easy to know everyone, and social and economic ties go together.
What's cool about clusters as organizational forms is that they are combo of firms and markets. As markets, they have power to create and allocate resources efficiently. After all, they are governed by the laws of supply and demand, and are highly efficient at allocating resources to the "material well being of all". In short, a little competition can be good for you.
Now, in addition to being a cluster, Hollywood operates on a project basis. Something like this: now that everyone's clustered together, let's see who's the best to respond to some challenge?
Someone defined projects as "temporary systems of diversely skilled people working together on a complex task over a limited period of time." A person reads a script, goes to a producer who wants to make a movie, and calls this director, and then these actors, etc. etc.
So then someone in Hollywood figured out that they would be more competitive and more adaptable and able to explore environment better if they operated on temporarily and flexibly assembled project teams. This means that the talent is not always the same, because if they were then it would be really boring to watch same people over and over again. Also, things that always-same talent can come up with would also be limited (how many different things can same people come up with?). Most importantly, though, it could happen that limited talent is not up to the current task.
Thus, by continuously reshuffling people vs. not keeping all its talent "in house" Hollywood makes sure that it always has A-team on its disposal. And it also makes sure that it's flexible for whatever comes next. And, sometimes, it produces innovative stuff.
Now, for a second, think about agencies as clusters. Clusters have spatial proximity of diverse talent, but without hierarchical and formal ties that keeps it in place. Talent is only loosely coordinated (people belong to certain functions, units, etc.) but otherwise works as a market. When people are closely together, it enhances communication and collaboration. But it also creates little bit of competition. So bringing market inside of a firm may be a healthy thing. And who knows, it may help create something new, too.
First, the idea of "Chief Culture Officer" struck me as terribly silly. I completely understand the need for the "board-level support for the kind of cultural immersion needed." But, in the same way Chief Innovation Officer doesn't make any sense (how crazy was that??), Culture Officer can't do much if, well, there's no shared culture where (his) ideas can resonate.
And the very moment that kind of culture exists throughout the organization, well, there's no need for anyone in particular to represent it (because everyone does). And if there's no such culture, one man will not bring it in, on a board level or not. Sounds like an oxymoron to me.
Here's a great illustration that I've just came across on Bill Petti's blog: "A study of the top fifty game-changing innovations over a hundred-year period showed that nearly 80% of those innovations were sparked by someone whose primary expertise was outside the field in which the innovation breakthrough took place." And: "Only 1 in 5 game-changing innovations came from the minds of people that are specialized in that particular field."
There's a ton to learn here about culture of innovation and about organization for innovation. (If innovation happens everywhere, what organizational structures support best distributed collaboration? No, the answer is not Chief Innovation or Culture Officer - that's a shortcut.) But, unlike Bill, I don't think that innovation is so much about "polymaths". Maybe more important than having multitalented people is having a lot of connections between them, so that info and ideas can be exchanged quickly and can flow freely. And this is no one man's feat.
Okay, and now to the part of Tim's article that I liked. It is absolutely "overly simplistic" to claim that ad agencies should be like software companies. I have always found that analogy too weak and way too literal. It's like saying: this horse is running fast, let's be like this horse!
The question is, of course, one of values: testing, iteration, short feedback loops, monitoring, collaboration. These values are inherent in digital technology. Software companies, by sheer proxy, are those dealing with this technology the most. So, the easy conclusion is, let's be like this production shop! Whew.
What happens if you are too much focusing on being like a production shop, is that you may miss out opportunity to be something else, something better, and something more suitable for your business. That's a problem with organizational imitation vs. organizational innovation. Next time, I'd like someone to try to say how are digital technology's values changing their agency and the way they are doing marketing, instead of pointing at the fast running horse.
It's from the NewYorker article about Google, "Searching for Trouble", that I read a couple of weeks ago, but never gotten around to writing something about it. The author is Ken Auletta, and there is something touching that this writer, who built his fame around following shenanigans of the old media moguls (his book from that period, "The Highwaymen", is notorious) now has to deal with the challenges of understanding of the whole new media world. All within a single career.
Anyway. The above sentence ends the paragraph where the author talks about the stark contrast between the old and new ad models:
"Most American media - television, radio, newspapers, magazines - depend for their existence on a long-entrenched advertising model. That model, at which Karmazin excelled, depended on salesmanship, emotion, and mystery. ... "I was selling twenty-five billion dollars' worth of advertising." Karmazin recalled. "Did I want someone to know what worked and what didn't? Karmazin looked at his Google hosts and proclaimed, only half in jest, "You're fucking with the magic!"
Now, while certainly funny, his outcry is not as outdated as we'd like to think. Even among digital marketing agencies and its creative directors, there's still a lot of belief in creating "magic". This magic, true, may not be measurable, but is thought to be attractive both to advertisers and audiences alike precisely because the aura of its mystery.
In Karmazin's words, this would be: "I have no idea if it's going to work. You pay your money, you take your chances." Utterly appealing.
On a recent industry event, I heard one digital CD say that "you got to make things that people are going to search for." So, I guess the game is the same, it just in a different medium. Except, the logic "if you build it, they will come" (or search for it, in this instance) doesn't really make much sense in digital. You can build as much as you want. They'll ignore it. To make something searchable - and findable - you got to optimize it, test it a bit, and then distribute it in such a dispersed way that it increases chances that people will stumble upon it. Nothing magical there, in fact.
There's also another sort of magic that's still alive and well and right in the middle of agency-client relationship. Karmazin put it like this: "I want a salesperson in the process, taking that buyer for drinks, getting an order you shouldn't have gotten. You don't want to have people know what works. When you know what works or not, you tend to change less money than when you have this aura and you are selling this mystique."
And here I thought that our job is to help clients solve their problems in an accountable and transparent manner. To tell them the inconvenient truth and to show them the tough love. But at the same time, to really, truly, help them by bringing tangible and measurable results. It should also be noted that best digital agencies employ a bunch of nerds and geeks who are incredibly passionate about solving problems but whose social skills are, dubious, to say the least. Or, rather - they are filled with people who don't exactly see the point of creating any "aura" around themselves or their work. And, besides, going for a drink with a 20+ year older client on a weekend night only for the sake of selling them "mystique" sounds like a horrible way to spend time.
But more worrisome than how people spend their weekends, is forging a personal relationship where a purely business one makes more sense (just think Richard Fuld, started to love his bank too much, made some bad decisions). A lot of clients stay with an agency not because it's the best choice, but because they have a "relationship". Lame advertising campaigns happen because people got to like each other over drinks; or because the agency convinced the client that their solution is the best. Proof for it stays at the bottom of the drink.
Google here did not mark only the end of one advertising model and introduction of a new one; it actually mostly made visible a whole new set of relationships. A set of relationships that becomes apparent when everything else is made transparent.Magic is an incredibly pretty thing to believe in. Only, it's not real.
The other day I came across this very amusing article, "The Case Against Awards: Why the Wrong Person Always Wins", published in The New Republic. The basic idea of the article goes something like this: the awards system is by default flawed and, more importantly, so what? "So what" - exactly.
Funny enough, those who are the most vocal about the unfairness and/or futility of the awards, the author observes, are those who - paradoxically, perhaps - care the most: "Those most convinced that, say, the Oscars do a horrible job of rating films are the very people who cling to their emotional investment in the outcome," he writes. And, a bit later: "Magazine writers tend to be both obsessed with who wins and convinced the process is a pathetic joke." I can't help but see a parallel to advertising industry. But again - so what? It's all for the show anyway.
The question here is not one of the awards at all - it's the one of sociology. The organization of human groups are rarely chaotic for a long time, if at all. There's always some form of order based on horizontal or vertical distribution of authority, power, and accountability. Games people play to reorganize the ties of power and authority are, for me, one of the most interesting domains of sociology and psychology.
Best part here, though, is that a game becomes increasingly more complex as the objective criteria of authority/power decrease. That is, as we move from matters of survival (where the winner is obvious - just think Darwin Awards) towards the matters of taste, the ranking becomes arbitrary. In short, there's no way to prove it.
Who judges these awards, at the end of the day, is really not important. Either way, we won't like the outcome.
(the image is from the Creative Faceoff.)
Releasing a lot of different versions of the same thing and seeing which one performs the best has by now became so notorious that even the most backwards-thinking clients have heard of it. Yet, while everyone kind of agrees that digital is a perfect environment for testing-and-learning, there are still very few real-world advertising examples to back up such claims. (Notable attempts by individuals aside.)
More correctly, in fact, is to say that there were a few examples until very recently. Some days back I read about the performance of Digg's experimental ad network that they started on their site at the beginning of the summer. Now, what I find more interesting than the core premise of the model (allowing users to vote ads up and down) is how the advertisers responded - they started releasing different versions of the same ad, to see which one gets most diggs. For example, according to Brian's Adweek article, Toyota featured 8 different ads, each with two sets of copy. In other words, to increase the chances that an ad will be liked/clicked on, Toyota ran a test.
So, now - since there is no better measure of success than actually monitoring that success - why is not EVERYONE doing this same thing? I mean, why the audience voting has not become an inherent part of web-wide ad networks? Of course, there's a non-negligible question if the model can work outside the Digg environment, but the current returns (click-through rate that reaches 2 in some instances) are such that it seems at least worth trying to find out.
At least, that's what Huffington Post thinks. Apparently, they've started doing testing to some of its headlines (this actually reminded me of the same thing that Elle now regularly does with two versions of its covers, but wonder what they learn from the results since the feedback loop is so long and celebrities on the covers are not repeated for a long time). Anyway, visitors to HuffPo randomly see one out of 2 versions of a headline for the same story. Then, the editors give it 5 minutes, and based on this 5 minute face-off between the two titles, they select the winner. Real-time headline testing? Kind of great.
And - if it works for content, why wouldn't it work for ads? Try it.
(the image found here.)
Last Wednesday, I went to an event titled "Creating Digital Culture". It was a crowded event, with the prominent names in the marketing industry: Hashem Baiwa (Director of Digital Strategy, Droga5), James Cooper (Digital Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi), Mike Geiger (Chief Digital Officer, Goodby), Matt Spangler (Digital Marketing Entrepreneur), Taras Wayner (ECD, R/GA), and Rick Webb (Co-founder, Barbarian Group). Moderator: John Winsor (Director of Strategy and Innovation, Crispin). I wanted to write my take on it afterwards, but somehow couldn't really decide on what to say. I failed to get inspired.
As so seemed the participants on the panel. What was very obviously lacking in their discussion (aside of a single female participant) was the enthusiasm. How?? Like, digital media are the most interesting and fun and creative thing that happened to marketing since it was invented, and those people can't get excited enough to offer an original opinion? Their interns and junior planners are probably more psyched about the web then they are.
To be fair, though, the questions we heard were all the usual suspects: what's the next thing in digital? what's the agency of the future? how does it look like, what's called? where do you find planners? where is creativity? I've been hearing those same questions since 2006, and they were lame even back then.
Most likely, if you haven't figured it out by now, it's either a) not very likely that you ever will or, b) the question is wrong. I choose b). So, first, change the questions. Change them.
Second, how about a little mixing up with who the panelists are? I mean, these people are a great draw for the crowd, but how about giving them (and us) a break? Like, why not inviting some smart planners or good creatives (instead of their bosses) to say how they actually - in real life - solved some problem and addressed some challenge. Bet there would be more interesting insights. And then, those people are on the rise in their own careers: they are passionate, and interested, and ambitions, and curious. At least, they'd show some excitement.
And I would love to see some of the most talented digital creatives up there: for example, Creative Directors Diana Hong and Mehera O'Brien would make an amazing panelists (yes, they are girls!! and they are the most incredible professionals!). And so would Amber Finlay and Johanna Beyenbach and Kristen Hengst and Michal Pasternak. And, also would Ivan Askwith and Lee Machmeyer and Matthew Danniels and Adam Liebsohn and Gene Liebel and John Antoniello and Jeff Wong and Michael Surtees.
Those people are smart and talented and motivated and fun and they do the work while their bosses are trying to figure out the meaning of that same work. They know how the digital agency should look like in order to function better; they know who they need to collaborate more in order to get the work done; they know what are blooming trends in digital - because they encounter all those challenges daily. And after all, if you'd like to talk about digital environment, why not create a sample that's actually (in terms of age and gender) a good representative of that environment?
Web is a proof that best ideas come from literally anywhere. So why asking the same old people the same old thing over and over again, in a vain hope that they will give us a different answer this time around?? Maybe before we go on to find the next agency model, how about a new panel model? A model in which the panelists get to sit in the audience, and some in their audience get to climb up there. Just for a change.
And, if this sounds naive, see the videos from the evening yourself.
In a way (and absolutely ironically) this effect turns TV more in a direct response medium than in what it's traditionally considered: a broad-based awareness and branding medium. Get that.
This kind of thinking reminded me of a 2007 paper called "Viral Marketing for the Real World" by Duncan Watts, Jonah Peretti, and Michael Frumin, which talks about ways to augment impact of "viral campaigns".
Rather than figuring out which sort of content is going to go viral (puppies, pranks, etc, which made some people naively wonder what should brands learn from the most popular web videos?), and how to "seed" it so it widely spreads (which "influencers" should we target?), the model that authors propose combines the power of traditional media with the ability of digital to quickly and easily spread messages. The catch is - in order to reach a wide spread - social media campaigns need a little help from, well, mass media. (They aren't call mass for nothing, after all).
The authors specifically call out BK's Subservient Chicken, which is often used as a blueprint example of a legendary and wildly successful "viral" campaign. Ok, so maybe it's time to debunk its myth. Just a little bit.
Apparently, Watts and Peretti claim, the Subservient Chicken campaign "reached millions of viewers, but was also supported by a nationwide marketing effort that yielded a very large seed."And,"although many people heard about the website through word of mouth, many others saw television ads paid for with a multimillion dollar advertising budget." The best part is this, however: "Perhaps because it makes a better story, journalistic accounts of the campaign usually fail to mention the paid advertising and present the campaign as a purely viral phenomenon." Conclusion: "Nevertheless, the Subservient Chicken clearly benefited from paid advertising that dramatically expanded the reach of the campaign." Fair enough.
A question now: why are TV & social media efforts not better coordinated, and more often?
(image found here)
Due to an unnaturally long subway ride yesterday, I bought November issue of the Vanity Fair beforhand. This afternoon, I read (mostly by accident) Micheal Wolff's article on Ruper Murdoch and the Internet. That is, on Murdoch's belief that people WILL PAY for the content of his multiple newspapers.
What stroke me as odd was not the dubious empirical value of such a stand, but more that the approach came from someone so media savvy, so powerful, and still so successful in the media business. Maybe I should make this "old media" savvy though. Even the boldest among media moguls - or companies - for that matter (think Time Warner, a company that has been trying "everything Internet" in the past decade. Or think Barry Diller, who's among the oldies actually the one who did make some money off his IAC ventures. Some money, not a lot of it, though).
Wolff's article reminded me of an aricle "Running Numbers on Charging for News Online" , talking about the CUNY study New Business Models for News Project that I have seen some time ago. The study went with two pay models for a metro news organization scenarios (hm, how about New York Post and Wall Street Journal?). In one scenario, the website charges for all of its content; in the other, the site only charges for a fraction of it.
The conclusion: "Sites that charge for all of their content consistently lose “millions” during the first three years if they institute the pay wall; a hybrid site, by contrast, can become profitable before then, since additional advertising revenue more than makes up for any loss in subscription revenue."
Now, whether Murdoch will indeed make people pay for his content or not is not really an issue. What's curious is that he will try - because he assessed that's a smart strategic + business move for news online. What is even more curious is that he thinks that making people pay for content online will drive them to buy more print newspapers. Something like - if I have to pay for it, I would rather consume it in a paper format.
And here, I could not think of a single example of media content model that actually achieved this goal. iTunes did make people consume more music (but not buy more CDs); YouTube - and Hulu for that matter - did get people to watch more video content (but not necessarily to do so on TV); and Kindle may led people to read more (but not necessarily printed books); and e-commerce sites inspired people to buy more (and not in the physical stores).
So, while it may have helped media content consumption, when has the Internet helped old media distribution?
At this point, I am mostly curious to see how badly Murdoch's model fails.
Yesterday, I came across this site, "Elect the Jury" for the International Andy Awards, done by Michael Lebowitz, and thought it was pretty cool. The site addresses digital marketing industry - "You've Done the Work, Now Decide the Jury" - which is pretty transparent way of electing people to distribute the awards. Awards juries are usually filled with the usual suspects (not to say that it's not still the case, even here), but the twist is at least interesting - first, we vote on jury, and then, the jury votes on us.
The list of nominees is impressive (as of now), and while the gaming of the system is always an option (the agencies with the biggest number of employees can fare well in this situation), I believe actually that people would vote for those individuals whose work they respect the most. At least, the site design lets them do so - everyone is allowed to pick 5 nominees.
A nice step towards democratization of the awards process.
P.s. I just hope the situation does not end like this. Eh, "we couldn't agree on the list"! ;)
I have seen an article today at The Atlantic, "The Moguls' New Clothes", (written by one of my professors at Columbia Business School, Bruce Greenwald), which reminded me of the time when I have just started my Masters in Media Studies program in New York. Mergers and acquisitions of media companies were all the rage back in the day. The Atlantic writes: "Media is the only economic sector that historically has achieved growth predominantly through mergers and acquisitions." Fair enough.So what's the deal here? Well, media companies and advertising firms seem to have been pursuing a bad strategy: accelerate growth, diversify internationally, invest in content, and exploit digital convergence. In short, build an empire.
The Internet does not like empires. It's a network of villages; a loosely coupled federation, if you will. The web stroke "at the very heart of the core competitive advantage historically enjoyed by traditional media companies - economies of scale and captive customers. First, it radically reduces the fixed-cost nut required to engage in all manner of activities. And it all but eliminates the actual or psychological cost that impedes a user from trying an alternative product or services." The web, in short, is a pure barbarian invasion.
p.s. Occasionally, and unexpectedly, good things happen (not that this is going to save media, but nevertheless). An recent occurrence related to the very same magazine, The Atlantic, is an example of Jane Jacob's quote above. Apparently, the prominent political blogger Andrew Sullivan, NYT article reports, used his forum on TheAtlantic.com And, apparently, to tell readers to subscribe to the print edition of the magazine. And apparently, within just two days after his post, the magazine received 75% of subscriptions that usually takes a month to gather.
Sometimes, it takes a village to build an empire. ;)
I came across this excellent analysis of online commenting, which, according to the article "has become a medium in its own right". The question then becomes, "when the general consensus is that most comments suck, why do we continue to add the functionality to websites?"
Comments on my blog are all awesome, and I love to get feedback on stuff I write. However, it is easy for me to love comments here, because they are all very smart, interesting, and polite and respectful even in disagreement. In fact, I welcome people who disagree with me (or offer a new way of looking at things) because they push me to think more. When comments are inspired by the topic/article, and not by its author, there's a context for a healthy exchange of ideas, and "enhance whatever they are attached to and offer insightful and constructive debate".
More often than not, this is not the case.
It's more likely "to find comment in the form of excessive superlatives or the monosyllabic jeering and swearing from anonymous cowards, wading through which only saps our energy to persist in looking for something worth while to read."
And it's not only about the wasted energy. Accumulated comments, like those on AdWeek or AdAge, are a collective reflection of the marketing industry and its predominant culture. It's like an anthropological case study.
So, what are the findings? I am going to quote here Alan Wolk, who already wrote about this, and summarized it the best. Apparently, all industry comments belong to three main categories: a) "you are not famous enough for me to pay attention to", a.k.a. "where is your portfolio", b) "all this smart stuff makes my brain hurt", and c) "enough about you, here's a link to my brilliant blog post".
If these comment modes are reflection of the "state of the industry", then it may help us grasp why the industry is not adapting a bit faster - and better - to consumer behavior in the complex media environment. Simply, a lot of people working in it are often more interested in trashing each other, pushing their own agendas, and being intolerant to difference, than in thinking and discussing new ideas.
In contrast, there's a digital marketing world. It's an uncertain and unpredictable place. More importantly, it's also a place where most people are actually curious about the changes in the media, society, and the world around them. (Operative word here being "around them").
Just have a look at Faris' or Noah's or Paul's or Gareth's blogs. People there want to talk about ideas, not about each other. Together, they offer a reflection of a totally different culture. It's a culture of appreciation, respect, creativity, information, experimentation, newness, and challenges.
To brave an uncertain digital environment, people working in it figured they need a little help from their friends. And that's adaptive.
If traditional and digital advertising don't get agree so often, it's not because they revolve around different media. It's because of the people.
"The question for creative agencies is whether they can wake up, react to what's going on, engage the crowd, and make themselves a part of the new reality."
Also. For those interested in the real-world answer to the question above, see comments on this article. It's a long road ahead ;)
Whoever comes here from AdAge site should read this (Alan Wolk's post). Recommended.
Last night I had a quick dinner with my friend Lars, and we were talking a bit about digital marketing industry (zzz ;) and it was just interesting to ask question, yes everyone thinks there is something they should be doing differently, but how do you really change?
At the end of the day, the question - once stripped of all technological, sociological, and media connotations - becomes a pretty basic one: literally, how to change your day-to-day business? A big riddle of "who's going to figure it out first?" can be looked at merely as an operational question of "what to do with my marketing budget if I am not going to make a 30-second spot?."
Now, there are probably a million answers to this question, each more interesting than the previous one, but that's all speaking in abstraction. There's an idea, and there's it's execution. Not the same.
There is a force of producers, creatives, strategists, client partners, and everyone else involved in marketing that need to start a) thinking, b) working and c) cooperating differently. For each new idea, there needs to be an organizational form to support it. And no one has the organizational form of that kind of flexibility and no one also has multiple organizational forms to turn to when asked to do things differently.
So now what? While there's a whole discipline called organizational theory, last night I could not remember a single industry that successfully, swiftly, and proactively transformed itself. (A lot of industries, on the other hand, were forced to change - media industry, automotive industry, financial industry, losing in scale and budgets. Which may not be a bad thing). And if there are success stories, we learn about them after they already happened.
But then I thought about the movie industry for a bit. TV took off in the fifties, and the movie going declined. People still went to the movies, but at - what the industry thought - unacceptably decreased rate. People didn't stop watching movies, they just started doing it slightly differently.
But the industry which depended on people watching movies only and exclusively in a certain way found itself paralyzed. Around the same time, antitrust action forcing movie studios to divest movie theaters they previously owned. That meant that everyone was now competing for already decreasing moviegoers. In this situation, the emphasis shifted at the end of the value chain - the theaters. And the result? Movies starting making money on concessions. :)
This may as well be a cautionary tale of what happens when an industry thinks that people will forever be doing things in the way that industry was built around. (Or, as Stafford Beer put it, "the purpose of the system is what it does", not what its creators envision it should be doing). And also, it's just cheaper to continue doing what worked in the past, then to research, monitor, and experiment what it is that works in the present.
But there's something else that's more interesting. Movie industry was forced to reorganize itself. To minimize the risk, the studios diversified: there's a mainstream movies arm, and art house arm, independent arm, horror, action, etc. Since they don't know which movies people will like, they decided to make streams of different movies, with different budgets, teams, agents, producers, and distributors. Chances are that at least some of them are going to make money.
So now, an observation. Diversification of the core business does not in fact mean synergy (which was an unfortunate strategy of the media industry a decade ago), but exactly the opposite: divesting and fragmentation and having different arms of business loosely connected. Each doing what it's good at, all of them contributing to the complexity of digital environment. There's no one holy grail, or one best way to make campaigns that everyone is trying to discover, there's just a lot of different ways to respond to clients' challenges. Sometimes a solution is going to be a blockbuster, and sometimes it's not. But that's okay. It's concessions that count.
I have been thinking about metaphors (in marketing) a bit, and what they are good for. Some of the most popular representatives are: "influentials", "social influence", "tap into community", "break through the clutter", "building buzz", "bottom-up", "social currency", "viral video", and "consumer control". (Disclaimer: I acknowledge that Noah likes this topic, but I suspect that we in fact are interested in two completely different phenomena related to the concept of a "metaphor", so not linking to his stuff here.)
I am mainly thinking about free and deliberate use of the above terms as metaphors to address the complexity of social behavior in digital media. Metaphors are, in reality, great rhetorical devices but often extremely poor explanatory tools. For example, whenever someone uses "break through the clutter", they assume that: a) there is an agreement on its meaning: i.e. that everyone else uses that term in the same way, b) that there is a clearly identified situation that this term refers to, and c) that just by using the term, they explain this situation.
Neither of which is correct or, for that matter, helpful. Why? Well, it contributes to the status quo in the industry: despite of the fact that they employ the metaphors, marketing people continue doing what they know how to do best - bicker with each other, watch Mad Men, build minisites, rip off their clients, create flash banners, and go to award shows. The new media environment and its actual consequences for clients' businesses remain on some PowerPoint slide, locked in a metaphor of choice that is very easy to understand but equally hard to explain.
To rely on metaphors in fact just prolongs the illusion of having the challenging situation under control (something like: if we name it, we understand it). But naming a problem does not solve it. It just makes people talk more and more about it, and invent their own variations on the theme. Second, metaphors work retroactively. They can only apply to things that already happen. But they can't actually predict if that same thing is going to ever happen again. So, in a way, they are on the verge of useless.
Digital media have been around for a while now, and people are still creating minisites that may "go viral", but that will definitely "break through the clutter". They seek to target "influentials", and "tap into the power of community". It all works perfectly together.
Except, that it actually does not. What's missing is the evidence that a connection between "viral" and "video" actually exists. It's a perfect crime, as Baudrillard would say.
How would a marketing world without metaphors look like? Instead of being intimidating, the world of not knowing how to name something - and how to connect something new to something familiar - should in fact be liberating. Why? Because it actually takes off the pressure of predicting the future based on the past (and the business of future-telling this is by no means an easy feat).
The role of metaphors in society was (and still is) to transfer knowledge from previous generations in order to illustrate new situations, and, to use a model or idea from one domain of human experience and apply it to another. It can be incredibly inspiring if it offers fruitful insights and innovative ways of approaching a situation. But it can also be incredibly stifling when a metaphor actually masks the novelty of a situation.
Seems to me that we are currently struggling with the latter.
The other day, I was IM-ing with Phil, and we started the game of exchanging the "sites that look alike". Before long, we realized that there is way too much of that stuff going on. What we thought was a trend secured for photographers' portfolios online, in fact got spilled out to other areas as well (most notably, agency sites). Here are some of examples of the variation of the theme above: this, this, this, and this. (Note: I am not going to get into who came up with it first; I am more interested in why there is so much replication?)
So now the question is: in the domain that is the Internet, which is lauded for its diversity, tending to niche tastes, and variety of content and distribution formats, how come that a lot of people are doing the same thing?
The simple answers are: a) don't change the format that works; b) it's cheaper to copy than to innovate; c) everyone else is doing it; d) it's fashionable; e) no one wants to be an oddball.
While all of the above are probably true, I am most interested in c). In the uncertain and unpredictable environment - or, at least, in the environment where likelihood of knowing what is going to succeed is hard to calculate - people usually rely on what others are doing. And since the Internet is a densely connected network, news/ideas travel faster and get more people exposed. So, if something seems to as a good idea, the likelihood that more people will think so are higher (and consequently, the chances that someone will try to replicate it increase).
So, is it possible that, instead of diversification, the Internet actually encourages replication? Or, does it just make the Power Law more apparent?
At the end of the day, the Internet is a network of people, tools, and content. It displays characteristics of any community: learning, influence, and imitation. And why we imitate? Because it's critical part of social learning. No one has time to figure out the world all over again; it's much quicker (and more adaptive) just look what worked for others in the past. (Otherwise, we would just be inventing hot water over and over again. Well, some of us still do that).
Then, without people having some things in common there would be no "community". In this particular case, what the sites above have in common is a message that their owners work in a digital industry; that they understand a thing or two of how people browse the page and what they pay attention to (big slideshow in the middle, 3-4 categories of links at the bottom, name in the upper left corner); that they will apply the same kind of knowledge to you - their clients. Which, in turn, just further replicates the same format ...
On the other hand, having this kind of sameness is perhaps a good thing. It allows us not to spend to much time figuring out what the brand/agency/individual is about. If we are so used to the format, the novelty of it has worn off, and we actually can direct our mental resources to other things. If Gitte Lindgaard is correct, we spend about 50ms deciding if we like a site or not. If that's really the case, then having to repeatedly deal with the same thing is almost a blessing.
I still think it's sorta boring.
I am not sure why I am even writing about this. Probably because it caught my eye the other day without even knowing what's exactly about. And now I have to follow through. Truth is, these kind of debates bore me to death. Bob Garfield's "The Chaos Scenario" book certainly feels like talking about the future while looking at the rear mirror, and Jeff Goodby himself does not seem terribly far from it, too.
Simply put, Goodby seems to think that all we need is better advertising. Yes, times are challenging, and our response is to try harder to do what we are already doing. If we were just a bit more creative, or had a tad better copy, or be slightly more funny, then "advertising could morph itself into something people actually want to experience and seek out".
Good luck with that.
The question here is not one of advertising at all. And framing complexity and uncertainty of the current media environment as an advertising question, can only limit the range of possible solutions. If Goodby asked: how do I inspire people to buy more of my clients' products in the current complex media environment (or, better yet, how to become more relevant in consumers' lives), then he may have come to a range of possible solutions, some of which may have been quite interesting, and all of which could have been actually expected to increase sales and/or promote the client's brand.
But no, let's talk AGAIN about advertising.
Goodby wants a more efficient old system. And he is hardly the only one. This kind of path-dependency in thinking is known both in studies of decision-making and in real life. Thinking that agencies' can't change because "there's simply too much money and corporate energy devoted to this cause for those budgets, and hopes, to disappear overnight." Hm, something's not going to fail because there is too much invested in it? Bigger systems collapsed for less: financial system and Soviet Union come to my mind :).
People tend to cling to what they know and with what they are comfortable; they are averse to loss and tend to repeat things that worked for them in the past. This form of irrationality is called Sunk Cost and it's super-interesting.
Worse yet, they think that if they continue doing what they were already doing, just in a better, faster, more efficient way, the current obstacles will be solved. Wrong. Internet may never make money. That is, it will never make that kind of money that advertising people think would make them want to do business on the Internet. Waiting for the Internet to start making money (even if the ways that Goodby hopefully suggest, "a combination of micropayment entry fees and advertising that people like") does not seem like a good strategy. Simply, it's applying one set of expectations to the system in which those expectations don't make any sense.
Social, technical, and economic organization of the web does not - and will not ever - support the media value chain in which someone makes money off advertising at the end as it was the case in the past. No matter how much "better" that advertising becomes. This situation does not mean that we are dealing with chaos (that's just silly). We are simply dealing with a complex system that sustains multiple coexisting orders of worth. Sometimes, what worked in the past will not work in the future. And sometimes it will.
The fact is that no one can predict which of these two possibilities will be the case. This is not a riddle; it's just a situation that requires a crucial understanding that now, it not the challenge that can be classified under "advertising".
What is certain is the following: keeping the debate always within the same boundaries will not ever provide a new solution. Asking the same question will not give a new answer.
This whole Goodby analysis reminds me of Henry Ford's "faster horses". He would have never invented a car if the only business he was in was breeding faster horses. Or, in the Sunk Cost terms, sometimes one just needs to cut losses and start thinking anew.
The last week's "splash" created by Gladwell's review of new Chris Anderson's book, "Free", revived some old thoughts that I had about innovation. While the review in question is not what I want to talk about here, I will say that (unlike Seth Godin and Anil Dash) I tend to agree with Gladwell's analysis. The bigger problem here is that I find discussions like theirs, well, slightly obsolete. And here is why.
Gone are the days when it was easy (or justified, for that matter) to claim that a specific thing, model, or idea, represents a clear and sudden break with the past and establishment of something completely new. The problem is, that unlike Thomas Khun's explanation of scientific revolutions, today's innovations happen everywhere and at any time. Equally different from the past is the power of those innovations to shake and redefine the world as we know it.
Every day when I browse the Internet, there is at least 2-3 new ideas, all powerful enough to build a business model around them. In this environment, to claim that any of them shakes the already known business model is, to say the least, naive. That would be the same as claiming that anarchy is a legitimate social system. Anarchy exists only as an antidote to order, and already structured system of relations. To really shake those relations, the attack needs to happen within the same premises that those very structures exist. That is, the change needs to happen from within. The same as anarchy will never be a real, long-term, challenge to an already existent system, "free" will not have the power to overturn the system that operates on money. It certainly can add to it, transform it, or modify it, but for that to happen, the model of "free" needs to be integrated to or, coexistent with a multiplicity - or a continuum - of other business and organizational forms that can sustain the ambiguity of multiple systems of value.
That's the first point: there is no either-or situation, there is only a co-existence and interaction. Which leads me to my second point: within this continuum of a different and often contesting systems of worth, innovation can and never will be what it used to be: a sudden and complete change of relations (economic, social, organizational, cultural, etc). Gone are the days when a single invention could create a change of the scale that railroad did, or electricity, or a telephone. Now innovations are incremental, often localized, and regularly additive.
Just think marketing industry today: no matter how many people may proclaim death of one thing or another, the fact is that the Internet did not kill anything (or anyone, to my best knowledge) for the 10+ years since it became widely used. Did it modify things? Absolutely. But it did so by existing often in parallel with already existent media and advertising industries. Or, to put it more simply: innovations in today's marketing industry are a matter of a degree. What is considered super-innovative among certain set of marketing agencies is considered passe in others; what is a model de jour for some campaigns, is thought obsolete and retro in others. This situation only indicates that there is no one single marketing industry (as we may be used to thinking) - in its place came multiple, contesting, and co-existent marketing industries for clients to choose from based on their brand, business, or whatever other objectives. The main problem of the marketing industry is that the models that internet brought to existence do not sufficiently interact with those that already exist. And operative word here is not "death" but interaction.
And here is my final point: while biggest innovator today, Apple, can and does shift boundaries of user experience in mobile, for example, the truth is that there are still other mobile devices that people use. It is really hard for any modern innovation to create a giant break with the past. Which is not necessarily bad. I personally find it way more interesting to see how different business, design, and social models interact with each other, rather than to feverishly ponder on how one single thing may (or may not) change the world as we know it. So yes, the fact that there is ton of stuff shared and consumed for free online is really something new, but rather than stopping there, I would love to read a book detailing how this fact can be leveraged, combined, and incorporated smartly with all other possible and existing consumption/production models. Then these different models can create an ecosystem that can legitimately be regarded as "innovation-enabling" and as such, something that we really haven't seen before.
I guess I just don't believe in big ideas, big innovations, and lone inventors. Big ideas as well as big inventions are always a collaborative effort. (And if you don't believe me, read a great essay in this book on how savvy businessman Thomas Edison had to be in order to create a system where his inventions would make sense. Without it, we would still be in the dark, literally and figuratively). The fact that we may have not recognized in the past that innovations are not singular is, um, our bad.